I can hear the bell ring just like it was yesterday. Laughter and voices filled the hall before I even exited the classroom to head to the cafeteria for lunch. Backpacks bumped against each other as everyone raced out the classroom door. Although some of the voices and faces I saw moving were my friends, I also heard many different voices and faces that were not kind, and words that were spoken not worth repeating. I remember wondering, would I be alone? Would the friends I had yesterday still be my friends today? Would I choose to use words that tear down over words that build others up? Or would I take charge and put someone else down to make myself feel bigger? Who would I be today?
I’m guessing remembering those days of junior high and high school is pretty easy for you too. Whether your experience was fantastic as the most popular kid in school or traumatic from the bullying you experienced, we can all head back and recall those years pretty quickly. We all experienced the feelings that overwhelmed us as tweens and teens, and our kids experience the same things. Our peers and how they responded to us during those years tend to impact our identity for years to come. It is the same for our kids. They feel exhilaration when liked, overwhelmed by insecurity, and pressured to make choices that align with their friends so that they can fit in even when they know they should choose another way. Add technology to the mix, and the peer pressure never stops, even when safe in your own home. It is a crazy mix, and we, as parents, can impact how our teens navigate the hallways of the teen years.
God has given you as a parent to your teen. This is on purpose and not by accident. He has chosen you to walk alongside them through these years when the pressures of academics and social status at school can be overwhelming. Your teens may not always act as if they like you, but they do need you.
Here are 3 ways to help your teenagers navigate the hallways of the teen years:
1. Be present. Put down the phone. Be present before and after school as much as you can. When my husband and I were dorm parents at a boarding school in Africa, the school required us to be present before school, and when kids returned home from school on purpose. The school knew these were two of the most vulnerable times for teens when they needed voices speaking truth to them before they went out among their peers. Even if you cannot be present due to your work schedule, ask someone who can to be there for your kids.
2. Listen. Teenagers need to know that you are willing to listen to them. They hear others all day long, and they need a safe place to be heard themselves. Let this place be your home. This can be really tough as parents because we can see the long game and want to tell our teens what to do. Instead, listen to their complaints about their friends and don’t try to solve the problem. Listen to what was funny about their day and laugh. Listen to their frustration with a teacher even though you know tomorrow, they will feel differently. Listen to them and pray that they will ask for your advice and counsel. After listening, if they ask, then give them your two cents.
3. Point them to who they are in Jesus. Remind them of who God made them to be and that this is not dependent on what anyone else says or does to them. God is their Creator, and He alone defines them. They do not need to measure up to anyone else’s standard or idea of who they should be. Their friend’s opinions of them or those who are not their friends, do not define them. Point them to scripture that speaks truth over who they are (Psalm 139: 13-14).
It truly does not matter where your teen attends school – public, private, homeschool – every teen needs their parent in their life as they navigate those other voices heard all throughout their day. As a parent, keep reminding your teen that you are present, you will listen and that you will point them to the truth of who they are in Christ over and over again. As you do this, your teen, and you, will survive the hallways of school during the teen years.