What to Expect When You’re Raising Responsible Teenagers? How can parents prepare for the relationship with their child to grow and change? What methods best guide teenage children to develop responsibility, honesty, and respect values – especially in today’s world? What is the balance between giving a teenager agency while providing sufficient guidance?
To consider answers to these questions and more, Matt Hannan, Upper School Principal at Santa Fe Christian, shares his thoughts. Hannan speaks from twenty years of experience as a principal to students whose ages range from 14 to 18 years and as a father of two SFC graduates.
Hannan discusses the importance of cultivating a parent-school partnership that builds a foundation of faith, resiliency, and smart decision-making in growing teens.
Milestones Along the Parenting Journey
The teenage years are a time of great physical, emotional, and social change. High school can seem like a different world from elementary and middle school. The adjustment is different for every maturing teen. Principal Hannan shares that he noticed a necessity to shift his parenting style based on his daughters’ changing priorities and interests during high school.
“About midway through sophomore year,” he recalls, “they became young adults, and they started to have real thoughts and ideas about things. I could engage them in conversations about spirituality, their faith, life, literature, and things that I may not have talked to them about before.” Hannan explains that this time is pivotal for teens and their parents, not only because it allows for increased depth of conversation but also because it’s usually the point at which parents realize that remaining time with their teen is passing quickly.
Hannan points out, “About halfway through high school, you realize that the time you have left with your children is much shorter than before. So, it can help clarify what’s important at this stage to ensure we’re instilling in our kids the values we want them to take with them into adulthood.” By appropriately guiding and supporting children throughout each developmental stage, parents can rest in knowing their children have the tools they need to thrive and succeed.
Parenting Younger Children and Pre-Teens
Raising thriving teenagers begins with building a strong foundation when they are younger. Thankfully, there are many ways to prepare for the teenage years before children reach that stage. Principal Hannan promotes getting used to presenting a united front with one’s spouse, setting clear boundaries, and adopting a long-term perspective.
Present a United Front
First and foremost, children experience better outcomes when their parents are on the same page. When parents are unified in their expectations, rules, and consequences, their children are more likely to understand what is expected of them and feel secure in their environment.
Also, when parents present a united front, teens are less likely to try to manipulate or play one parent off the other. “If you’re not aligned,” Hannan says, “the kids will know it.”
This can help reduce conflict and encourage cooperation between parents and their children, creating consistency and stability in the home. Adopting this disposition early makes it easier to stay united when the teen years arrive.
Set Clear Boundaries
Boundaries help children learn to respect authority, develop self-discipline, and take responsibility for their actions. When kids have clear boundaries, they feel a sense of safety and security, as they know the limits and can trust that their parents will protect them.
Hannan points out that a parent doesn’t have to rationalize every boundary with an explanation – sometimes, parents can simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ especially during younger years when children are still developing a sense of respect for authority. “In that younger time, it’s okay for you to say, ‘I’m the dad. Here are the boundaries, and I love you enough to give you boundaries.’”
While children may not think rules are loving at the time, the Bible provides many examples of how boundaries help human beings flourish. “Even in the gospel, there were limits in the Garden of Eden,” Hannan points out. “Why? Because God loves His people and knows what will give them the best possible outcome.”
Adopt a Long-Term Perspective
Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping this in mind, parents can ensure their short-term decisions align with the relationship they want with their children as they age.
As Hannan says, it’s important to think through questions like, “What kind of individuals do you want to have around you when your kids are 15, 18, or 21?” Then, in the short term, parents can develop methods to build toward that goal.
This perspective can help parents focus on the big picture and their long-term vision for their children. It allows them to think beyond their child’s immediate needs and consider how their parenting decisions will affect the future. When there is a clear guidepost down the road, it’s easier to be patient and establish clear boundaries and expectations now.
Raising Growing Teens
As most parents know, the goal of parenting is not to keep their children dependent on them forever. The goal is to launch children into adulthood, so they can go on to do great things, develop personal relationships with God, and be self-sufficient.
It can be difficult for parents when their child stops needing them as much, but this is a sign that they have done their job well. While this transition may not be easy, there are steps families can take to navigate it smoothly.
Shift Communication from Instructing to Coaching
When Principal Hannan’s daughter was adjusting from Middle School to Upper School, he realized that he needed to change how he communicated with her. Until then, their interactions mostly consisted of him telling her what to do. “Have you done this? Have you done that?” The boundaries were too strict to allow for an open dialogue.
There was friction and tension, and they were growing apart. His wife saw that his relationship with his daughter was not in a good place, and she pointed it out to him.
“I got hit with the truth,” Hannan says. “I was still stuck in the mode of telling her what to do rather than coaching her on how she should be doing it. And that was a fascinating realization. She was an emerging young adult who needed to be coached on how to do things. It didn’t mean that I just let her go. I still had that authority because she was still my child, and I was still the dad. I still had that role, but the role changed.”
Hannan’s communication shifted from instructing to coaching when he realized his daughter was becoming an adult. Oftentimes, this is a hard realization for parents. It can be scary to think about a child leaving the house at 18, and sometimes can make parents feel powerless.
But, as Principal Hannan recognizes, it’s an obstacle that all parents must learn to overcome with faith. “I must have faith and confidence in the work we’ve done,” he says. “Ultimately, when my daughter makes big decisions about life and temptations, all I can do is hope we’ve built a foundation. She knows the difference between right and wrong. She’s going to make good decisions because of who she is and her relationship with Christ, not because of rules and regulations.”
The parent-teen relationship transforms when parents begin to trust in the groundwork they’ve done with their children to help them become capable adults.
Allow Teens to Take Academic Ownership
When a teenager goes to college, parents are not around to ask if they did their homework or make sure they are studying. For this reason, learning to take academic ownership is a vital part of their development. It encourages them to take responsibility for their learning and to develop the skills they need to be successful in school and beyond.
By coaching teens to take accountability for their academics before they leave for college, parents prepare them to become independent, self-motivated learners who can make decisions about their education and future. This will help them become more confident and capable before they get to college and receive that freedom.
To this end, Hannan advocates for parents not to constantly check their children’s grades. This concept might surprise many parents, but Hannan speaks about its benefits.
“We stopped checking our kids’ grades at about Middle School and especially in Upper School because ultimately they’re their grades. Some kids may ask their parents to check their grades because that’s an accountability piece.” Ultimately, this shift encourages teens to own their work, which becomes imperative as they transition into adulthood.
Hannan still encourages parents to read and monitor their teenagers’ progress reports and get involved if an academic issue arises. But generally, by giving their children this agency, parents can improve their relationship with their children and demonstrate their trust in them.
“If I become the voice they tune out during these four years, what does that set up for the rest of our life?” Hannan asks. “I want to be a voice to them that is a guiding, truthful, safe harbor that allows them to know they are loved, supported, and cheered on. ”
SFC’s Head of Schools, Rod Gilbert, is also a proponent of not checking grades. “The goal is for them to fall in love with their journey of learning and not let a system of grades get in the way,” he says. It’s one step forward on the long journey toward becoming less dependent on mom and dad and more dependent on Christ.
Accept and Learn From Parenting Mistakes
There is no manual or degree in parenting. To some extent, every parent learns as they go, and no one is born knowing how to raise their children perfectly.
These days, social media adds pressure with a false highlight reel that constantly depicts filtered, unattainable standards for everyone, including parents. But, in reality, mistakes happen, and parents become better each time they accept and learn from them.
“We’re all sinners, and none of our kids are perfect, and they’re going to make mistakes,” Hannan admits. “There’s a beautiful thing in releasing the notion that we all must be perfect. I’ve made mistakes with my girls. I’ve said things that I shouldn’t have said. I’ve caused tears, I’ve caused heartache, and I’ve had to apologize to them.”
Relationships between parents and their children become stronger when kids have opportunities to witness the adults in their lives own up to and learn from their mistakes. So, while parenting perfection is elusive, failure is often one of the best teachers.
How SFC Supports Parents
Amidst the challenges and milestones accompanying raising responsible teens, Santa Fe Christian takes pride in partnering with and supporting families.
Principal Hannan says he’s enamored with the amazing work that SFC teachers do daily, not just because of the content they teach but because “they are reflecting Christ and modeling an authentic walk with Jesus.” He’s grateful for SFC teachers’ effect on his children and him personally.
Because children spend a significant amount of time in school, teachers are vital influences in their lives. In some ways, parents entrust the shaping of their children’s minds to their teachers. For this reason, it’s imperative for parents and teachers to form trusting relationships and have common goals for the teens in their care.
Santa Fe Christian Schools encourages students to try and fail in a secure environment. By focusing on and cultivating a strong parent-school partnership, SFC teachers and parents build a foundation that prepares teens for a bright future. For more information on the homework, time management, and parent partnership programs SFC provides high schoolers, listen to the Time Management episode from SFC’s Eagle Perspective Podcast with Upper School Assistant Principal Pamela Oden.