A lot has been said about the tumultuous teenage years. There is something about the adolescent phase that makes it fraught with tension, tears, and heartache.
If you ask Joni Oh, mother of two sons, aged 25 and 21, and a daughter aged 23, she would say that one of the most essential things parents of teens can do is to relinquish some parental control and give them the space to develop their own person – even when it is tough.
Focus on the Family Singapore recently caught up with her to chat about her parenting pains and lessons from her experience.
Q: How would you describe your relationships with your children?
Joni: For us, family happens over our dining table. We enjoy our regular family talks and a lot of laughter has been shared during mealtimes. We also bond over board games, and family trips overseas or locally. We thought we did a good job as Christian parents holding everyone together.
Q: What were some of the challenges you’ve experienced in raising a teen?
Our biggest challenge came when our youngest, Jonas, turned 14. There was a sudden change in behaviour and he went into a rebellious phase. He began to lose interest in his studies, played truant and ultimately landed himself in a street gang.
Under such tremendous stress, the biggest challenge for us then was communication. Like many typical families, we fell into a dynamic where we would complain about the kids not listening, while the teens say, “My parents just don’t understand.” The relationship just spirals downward.
It was just so difficult to reach out to our teens and get our point across. And we started to ask ourselves, what, or where is the problem?
Q: That sounds really difficult to manage. How did you cope as a family?
I recall one dinner conversation sometime in August 2014, when our youngest son voiced out that he will not be the same as his elder siblings (in terms of academic performance) and he wanted us to let him go.
We almost fell off our chairs. Knowing the company he was with then, how could we let him go?
In the end, the whole conversation became a preaching session about what’s right and wrong. We all felt defeated, unheard and angry, especially him. We realised after that we had been too quick to give our opinions when all we should have done was to listen to him and try to understand his perspectives.
We assured him that we would never shut him out from the family regardless of what he did outside the home.
Q: How did you handle the situation after? Did you also speak to your elder kids?
Yes we did. We spoke to our elder two individually, and tried to understand how they viewed this seemingly hopeless situation with their younger brother.
As the conversation unfolded, we learned that we needed to manage our expectations with our growing teens. They are constantly changing, not just physically, but intellectually and emotionally too. And we can help by giving them the space and freedom to develop their opinions and thoughts (though it may not always be right).
During this period, we also tried to catch our youngest in the wee hours to have heart-to-heart conversations with him. Our youngest has a kind and gentle heart. We reminded him this is his strength even if he feels he is different from his siblings. He still has this beauty in him and he must not lose it while he was on a journey of discovering who he is. We also assured him that we will never shut him out from the family regardless of what he did outside the home.
Humility in parenting teens is the biggest lesson for us.
Q: With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently?
Parenting teens is never top-down. While the teens are managing the many changes in this stage of their life, we need to adjust our parenting style, while not compromising our family values, to better fit our teen’s development. This helped us to make life with our teens more enjoyable.
Humility in parenting teens is the biggest lesson for us. We realised that we had been a stumbling block to our children’s development. We were so used to managing schedules, implementing rules and making major decisions when they were kids. We were still doing that when they were teens, and they hated it.
So what would we do differently? Talk to them about ownership. What it means to take ownership of their lives. Be deliberate in stepping down as the major decision-maker and step up as a coach to empower and support them in decision-making. Start with making small decisions like dining venues and then progress to family matters.
Strive to parent the child you have and not the child you wish you have.
Q: How would you encourage other parents who are struggling with their teens? How can they hold on to hope?
Parenting teens can be a real challenge when we insist on wearing the authoritarian hat instead of the humility hat. Strive to parent the child you have and not the child you wish you have.
It is also important that parents not be too harsh on themselves when we parent challenging teens. The tendency for us to experience guilt is real. We need to stay healthy not just physically but emotionally and mentally too.
Many times, our teens do not like being where they are. They experience guilty feelings too. It will be of great help to them when they know we’re working on our own recovery.
Q: What is the most helpful tip you’ve received for parenting teens?
Children are our best teachers when it comes to parenting. We have learned a lot through them:
Teens do not want us to view them as children.
They yearn for our trust.
They need to know we are interested in them. This is important so that we can relate to our children in a positive way to develop and nurture them to maturity.
Teens do not need us to be a teacher, but they need to feel our love, care, and concern for them. This allows them to move on when they experience setbacks.
I’ve been so encouraged listening to your parenting story, Joni. Any last words for our readers?
Be encouraged to know that our teens will grow into fine men and women as we celebrate their every small success. Continue to nurture the garden of your teen with patience and kindness.
Rules + relationship = response
Rules - relationship = rebellion
Build and maintain this precious relationship. Do not overly parent them. As we learn to let go, we also learn to rely less on our own effort and trust more in God. That is our hope.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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