What do teenagers want?

“Lucky parents who have fine children usually have lucky children who have fine parents.”

James A. Brewer

What do teenagers want? I have the privilege to interact with young people and to understand what motivates and drives them, because I teach the teenage class on Sundays at my local church in Nairobi. My passion for working with young people has also seen me interact closely with many others in different high schools in the country such as Alliance High School, Starehe Schools, Buruburu Girls School and Lenana School. I therefore have quite a fine understanding of what young people want and how they want to be handled from their point of view. What I have found extremely interesting is their view of parenting and how they are parented; and dear parents, it is important to hear it straight from the youngsters…

Parenting has overwhelming expectations

Parenting is neither a science nor an art; there has never been, and there will never be an exact or inexact way of doing it. It is one of those things that parents learn to do every day, even after doing it for decades. And yet…parenting, good parenting for that matter, has overwhelming expectations. This being more especially so, with this modern society that is riddled with dire challenges for both the parent and their teenage child. Working with youngsters has completely confirmed the need for acts of love, stewardship and responsibility to turn children into wonderful men and women.

The necessity is even more driven for the current generation of teens who are the most social and open minded in the history of the universe. A generation exposed to too much information at the touch of a button , much more than their parents ever were at their age. A generation that is technically savvy, almost as if there existed a digital sixth sense! A wired, connected world is all that they have ever known, much to the toddling steps of their parents who are not used to this, and haven’t navigated these waters enough to swim through the parenting journey with them with ease.

So what is this precious age group of youngster teens that I mentor saying their parents should do differently to be in touch with them and their world?
1. Listen, Listen, Listen and Talk Less

Our young people have exposure to too much information and opinions on almost everything. There’s also a very thin line between what the truth is and what it isn’t from all these sources. And that is where they need their parents input. They don’t lack information; they just don’t know the direction to take faced with all these inputs. Young people are crying out for their parents to listen to them more than order them around. They’re desperate to be given a keen ear, and for their parents to get to know what to tell them. They are very clear that parental parroting to them won’t work. Yours might just be the tenth opinion on the same subject, nine of which came from Facebook and Instagram, and yours just happens to be the worst.

Dear parents, please be purposeful about this – if only you would please endeavor to hold your tongues and wait it out. It is quite shocking to parents, how often their children can successfully reach their own conclusions. Being heard is powerfully therapeutic, and it allows youngsters to think things through and reach a solution. Please just do that. That’s what they want.

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2. Fun and Creativity Stimulate Positive Conduct and Cooperation

Our young people are living in the most social generation ever since creation that is driven more by fun and creativity than anything else. Parents need to go with the flow and rather than kill this current norm, tap into it. The teenagers I spend every Sunday with simply want their parents to get into their shoes and understand them as them, and not try to convert them into something else.

The more parents understand the ‘lingo’ and provide a guided stamp of approval and interest, the more respect they will earn. Parents – please affirm your youngsters in their space, not yours. Fear and control went out the window with old school parenting and is in their words “sooooo yesterday”. Whilst those dynamics may appear effective in the short-term, they won’t equip them with a strong moral compass, or effective problem-solving skills. When your teenage children feel valued as a person based on your interactions with them, they will naturally learn to value your direction and have the confidence to make good choices.

3. Don’t Disown Your “Dicey” Experiences

Parents – you are not and have not been perfect all your life. You know it and they know it too. The masks that parents don on, in a bid to put up a hallowed screen does not fool teenagers. You need to be as honest and open as possible with your challenges while you were a teen. Interpret them and discuss them from a learning point of view and the lessons you got out of your situation, while remembering this generation is fired up by connection of any form. This sharing remains powerful in that they will not only see you as an achiever, but also take it as a sign that they are not lost and that they’ll make it too. This also presents a creative opportunity to put forward your cautions in a more effective way.

The notion that there are consequences for every action is not new and it is understandable. The digital world is full of such stories. The connection you make with them will serve both of you well as you are a significant influence, and need ensure your interventions have high impact.

4. Really Know and Understand Their True Person

There’s an old school parenting perception that successful parenting is to produce a yielding, well-behaved child. Young people do not want to be put in a cast and all moulded off the conveyor belt like pre-cast products. True, these are certainly desirable traits, but they are not the core qualities that contribute to a happy and healthy teenager. Trust me, many teenagers later; this is just how it is. Knowing and understanding that the young people in your homes are indeed unique persons with their own thoughts and emotions gives them skills to cope in life and form healthy relationships. Young people unlike common perception appreciate the truth. They only need to know that you are speaking to them directly from a point of know, and not generalizing world teenage problems with them as a statistic in the conversation.

The conversation delivery style to induce fear and intimidation must stop and your teenager will accept that they: must prepare to both win and lose in life; not get all they want when they want and how they want; and to face the consequences of their decisions. Isn’t that now a great definition of a successful child? Don’t you want that for your teenage child? I know you do…

So what’s the bottom line?

What do teenagers want? In my vast experience handling over one hundred children in every season from all sorts of backgrounds; upper, middle and lower economic classes, from ages 12yrs to 19yrs, both boys and girls, they consistently only need one thing…To know that you love them unconditionally. You don’t have to feel loved by your teenage child every moment. They actually get over disappointments and failure situations and learn from them. All anchored in the power of the valued knowledge that their parent is their biggest support. They need to know you ‘get’ them and you ‘got’ them. That’s all.

Re-engineering one’s parenting approach can never be stress-free, but if it’s truly in the best interest of the children, it will be forever worth it! So parents – take it from your children’s mouths and do something radically different today!

Useful links
5 Mistakes Parents Make With Teens and Tweens
Dealing with disrespectful teenage behaviour
Struggling with your child’s behavior?

Author’s other works on Babylove Network – Electrical safety for children.

Other blogs – Solar Energy and Homes

You can connect with Vincent Combajo via combajovincent@gmail.com or +254 712 988 211

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“His energy is infectious. He oozes with conviction. He is the master of ‘It’s-never-that-serious’. He has perfected the art of retelling his pervious ordeals with wet humour. I would almost say I wish I had met him way earlier in my education…” READ MORE HERE

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