October 13, 2009

Give Teens Time

My oldest daughter is 14, so I was especially interested in the conversation some of our older girl campers were having when I drove them to Shaver a few days ago. I overheard one camper say, “My mom loves me but doesn’t like me.” We ended up having a good group conversation about parent and teenager relationships. I think everyone (parents and kids alike) know that the teen years can be a challenging time. I shared with the girls some insight I learned at a parenting class about teens. Often, as parents, we expect immediate compliance from our simple requests, and view our kids as being defiant if we don’t get an immediate response. A typical example is calling kids to dinner. We say, “Time for dinner!” and expect everyone to come to the table immediately. If we took out a stopwatch, most likely, after one minute (60 seconds) we would already be feeling irritated that the family has not convened. Many of us would be yelling a second request and feeling that our kids were not obeying us. What happens when we give our kids a little more time to make transitions?
Teenagers, I learned, need time to shift from one activity to the next. We don’t think about transitions as much with older kids as we do with our younger ones. Little kids, we know, need ten and five minute warnings before making a change and moving on to the next activity. We expect our older kids to be able to immediately comply with our requests and sometimes become irritated when they don’t. If you make a request, try giving your teen 3-5 minutes to comply without getting irritated with them. They may need that time to finish up what they’re doing and shift gears so that they are ready to move on to the next task. They may be finishing up a page of homework or an email to a friend. For them, they need to have closure on the task before they’re ready to move on to the next in a pleasant mood.
I tried being more patient after requests in my home this spring. Rather than repeating requests, I gave my dinner call five minutes early and didn’t repeat it. Everyone showed up, eventually, and I didn’t waste my breath on repeated requests. The teen took the longest. Although it seemed like a long time, in reality it only took 2-3 minutes for the group to come together.
I wonder how much energy we could save as parents if we gave our kids a bit more time (or an earlier warning). This simple change won't save parents from all the strife involved in parenting teens, but I think it can take some of the day-to-day stress out of our family lives. Our kids know that we love them, but I think they want to feel liked as well. They probably get the impression that we don’t like them when we seem irritated or upset with them. So, try giving your teen a little more time to comply with requests. They are not always trying to be defiant. Sometimes, they just need a few extra minutes.

Written July, 2008


  1. Hi There! Thank you for visiting me yesterday to celebrate my SITS Day! U are deeply appreciated!

  2. I totally agree with your comments about giving kids time to transition. I personally love teens and think that they are awesome people, who are just not fully formed and therefore not fully rational. Giving them time and grace saves a ton of frustration and keeps things much more peaceful at home. By the way, I am really impressed with your writing and your topics....and I am a completely objective "follower" of this BLOG. xo