I have been married to my husband, Chris, for 26 years but I am not an expert in marriage and family counseling. I’ve walked life’s road with a teenager but I’m certainly not an expert on teens.

What I do have because of these life lessons is experience. Not expertise, but experience.

Embracing Your Teen's Decisions with Love - Part 1, Let's Prepare

You see, there’s a big difference in the two. Expertise is defined as expert skill or knowledge in a particular field. Experience involves practical contact with and observation of facts or events.

Chris and I learned early in our parenting journey that our plans and the plans of our children were often times, two different things.

We had experienced the process of setting life goals and facing challenges and we desperately wanted to spare our children from similar mistakes while encouraging them to move toward goals we knew would help them succeed in life.

Along the way, we all learned that in order to succeed, we had to find common ground. Common ground based on our experiences together, not expertise.

If you and your teen struggle with finding common ground, here are a few tips we found helpful to begin purposefully constructing a positive relationship.

Ask, but don’t compare. If you’ve never eaten a taco and you want to know how it’s done, you watch what everyone else does. How they eat the taco determines your initial plan for taco consumption.

When you are preparing to parent teenagers, consider taking someone who’s parenting skills you admire, out for a cup of coffee or lunch and use their experiences to get a picture of what the future with a teenager looks like.

Ask questions.
How did they teach financial responsibility?
What challenges did they face as their teen became more independent?
What do they love most about parenting a teenager?
What were the three most challenging aspects of teen life?

Remember that just as your parenting style will be different from your friends, your children are also unique. Don’t be caught in the comparison trap, gauging your success on what worked well for others.

Take the information you are presented with and use it to paint a picture of possibilities. Use it as a guide full of suggestions and examples, but embrace the freedom to tailor your style to what works best with each child.

Communicate early and often. You’ve heard it over and over again, communication is crucial to success.

With teens, clear communication is not only crucial, it’s imperative to building a relationship that is open and honest. When you see a change in your teen’s behavior, ask if they can share what’s going on. Sometimes just sharing about a challenging day or an argument with a friend lightens the mood and opens the door for additional communication.

When your teen or pre-teen realizes that they can discuss challenges with you and receive an honest, open-minded answer, the door for future conversations is opened.

If you’ve not built a culture for communication up to this point, don’t be discouraged! Start small and work your way into deeper discussions. They may giggle and think you’re strange at first, but ultimately, the giggles pale in comparison to the reward.

Focus on positive qualities. It is so easy to focus our energy on constructive criticism. We want to guide and teach our children to learn from their mistakes.

A great way to begin developing a well rounded, positive relationship with your teen is to spend purposeful time focusing on their positive attributes. This can be as simple as a quiet compliment or an expression of interest in something that is important to your teen.

Since many teens dwell on the things they do not like about themselves, crafting your words to tell them the positive things you see will mean the world to them.

Laying the groundwork to walk with your teen through tough, trying times before they reach the teen years is a great goal.

But what if you haven’t laid a good foundation, didn’t start early enough, or your child has a rebellious heart? What then? How do you know which battles to fight and which ones to let go?

I’ll share more of our story and some solutions in Embracing Your Teen’s Decisions with Love – Part 2, Taking Charge. Even though things sometimes feel hopeless, hang in there…there’s more to the story and Christ is at the center!

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