Suggestions for Raising Teenagers

By me posting this I would hope that no one thinks that I think I know all the answers. I certainly don’t. These thoughts come not only as someone who is raising kids of their own, but also from a perspective of having been a Bishop.

Anyway – in no particular order – here are some thoughts and suggestions:

  • Almost all the successful parents/families I have observed seem to have two attributes that stick out more than others. Love/communication and Discipline. Whether one parent has one attribute and the other has the other  or both parents have both – it doesn’t seem to matter. But both elements are needed. At least one of the parents needs to be the disciplinarian and one needs to be the one with the great relationship. It would be best if both parents have both – but you can’t have just one aspect in raising teenagers.
  • Strong spiritual environment in the home. This is where daily scripture reading, daily prayer, regular FHE, attendance at church every sunday, etc.
  • Humor and laughing need to be there. Many times tense situations can be defused by humor. My wife is particularly good at this.
  • Curfews. We always had a curfew of 11:30pm. Once in a great while we would allow exceptions – maybe until midnight. Once they graduated from high school we let the curfew be 1am. And then there needs to be consequences very spelled out for lack of adherence. And don’t just willy-nilly excuse the infraction. Unless rules are enforced they will not be respected.
  • Wait up until they come home – no matter how late.
  • Teenagers don’t own their own cars. Parents need to have some leverage over their kids and cars are a good one.
  • Don’t give them every material thing. Teenagers should learn to appreciate things and not have everything available to them. They should experience sacrifice and not having what every one of their friends has.
  • Seminary. Coming from an ex-early morning seminary teacher this is one of the most critical from my perspective. Although I see the advantages of having release-time seminary – there are lots of benefits in the physical sacrifices of early morning seminary. (Plus the kids get so physically tired from early morning seminary that it helps dampen hormones!)
  • Bribing. It’s amazing what effect a little incentive will do on teenagers. Sometimes it provides just that little extra to help. I was amazed how many of my seminary students went through the effort to get their seminary pin just because I offered to take them to dinner if they did. Also for our girls we offered them $1000 to them on their 21st birthday if the kept the Word of Wisdom completely. Although I don’t think this was the driving factor with our girls – having this little incentive sometimes can be just enough to prevent that first time of experimentation. It also provides and excuse they can use with their friends. (I know people will react negatively to paying for keeping commandments – but it worked for my wife growing up and I will happily write my second check in another month.)
  • Girls camp and scout camp.
  • Stake youth conference. I know not all stakes are created equal. Thank goodness our stake does a phenomenal job in putting on great, testimony-building youth conferences.
  • EFY. One of the best investments that I have seen. While Bishop I saw the youth make quantum leaps after attending girls camp, youth conference and especially EFY. (I wish scout camps were better at building spirituality like girls camps are.)
  • Keep them busy.
  • Annual family vacations
  • Parents apologizing. One of the most powerful things a parent can do is admit when they make mistakes and apologize to their youth.
  • Family traditions (This helps build family unity)
  • Limited TV. Although I have been trying for years to get cable to watch sports my wife has been very insistent over the years to not have cable and to limit TV watching as much as possible. I grudgingly acknowledge the benefits in limiting the amount of TV we watch. 😉
  • Look for ways to build family spirituality. This can be as simple as service, special fasts, etc. The best spiritual thing our family did was be cast members in the Hill Cumorah pageant. My wife and kids resisted greatly about going – but it has been the absolute best thing (spiritually) in our family. I think that was a real turning point.
  • Get involved in missionary work and service. Becoming externally-focused and aware of those around is extremely valuable.
  • Have a fairly clean (meaning non-cluttered) and quiet home. Silence and peace are critical to developing spirituality. If teenagers are constantly being stimulated either through music, electronic games, etc – they learn not to be able to listen to the still, small voice.
  • Get extended family involved. Most of my extended family lives in Utah. We live a long ways away. My family are great examples. We don’t have the opportunity to do all the stuff that families who live close get to do. But we did fly our girls out each spring to be with their grandparents and for them to see that living the gospel was not just a mom/dad thing. There were others of the family who lived and believed the same things.
  • Trials and hardships. This is obviously something you don’t go looking for. But after having gone through some (my Down’s daughter has had several open heart surgeries) I am appreciative of the ultimately positive effect it has had on my kids.
  • Good friends. Teenagers need good friends. Parents should extend a great amount of effort in helping facilitate developing good friends. This means putting them in environments (church, sports, etc.) where you help them develop friendships. Also as parents we need to be seen as one of their friends (but at the same time – discipline and authority are needed. See very top of list. But as parents we shouldn’t be friends in the same way their regular friends are.)
  • Siblings. This isn’t something that always can be controlled. But youth need other siblings so that they learn how to interact and deal with other people.
  • Rest. One of the best things my wife does is keeping the younger kids on a regular schedule. They have a specific bedtime and she is very good about keeping it. If kids bedtimes vary wildly then they aren’t going to get the rest they need. This lays the groundwork for teenagers in later years.
  • Give kids their space and respect it. This can mean physical space and their personal belongings. Or it can also mean emotional space.
  • Trust and respect. Teenagers crave it. Obviously this is earned, but is critical.
  • If all else fails – have a great wife and mother. This can compensate for almost anything! Really – I readily acknowledge that any success that we enjoy as parents is mostly attributable to my wife. We have been fortunate that my wife has been able to be a stay-at-home mother. This has been a significant factor for our kids. We have had to sacrifice some material things, but it is extremely valuable – not only for the kids, but for our family’s and our marriage relationship as well.

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