When our kids are young they think we dads are gods (well, for the most part anyway). We’re smart, strong, handsome… it’s really nice, isn’t it? But, come the teen years, things can get complicated despite the best of intentions. The “because I’m your father, that’s why” argument no longer holds much water, and we realize that some of the only clout we have in our teen’s lives is the consistent time we’ve invested in them growing up.
As the teenage years progress, there are times that your child will open up and share things with you, and times that they won’t – even if you have a great relationship. Perhaps it’s helpful to understand why teens need their fathers, and what you can do to deepen that relationship.
Fathers are a boy’s role model for how to be (or not to be) a man. It’s been said “link a boy to the right man and he seldom goes wrong.” There’s an awful lot of truth in that and, ideally, a boy’s father should be that man. Whether you like or not, you are probably the #1 influence on what kind of man your son becomes. Make sure you’re a positive influence. Model for your son what you’d like him to be. Model how he should treat women by how you treat your wife and daughter. Whether it seems to be sinking in or not, he is paying attention to how you are a man and it will influence him deeply.
Fathers are a girl’s benchmark for how they should be treated. Want your daughter to think highly of herself and expect others to do the same? Than treat her that way. Girls learn relationship and love and respect from their fathers; both how their fathers treat them and their mother. There is no more formative time for this perception than during the teenage years. Girls learn how they should be treated by how their dads treat them. Show your daughter how she ought to be treated. Instill in her high expectations of herself and of how others should treat her as well.
Time is probably the most critical aspect of your influence on your teen. Kids figure out pretty quickly that their dad is a busy guy. That’s why your time means so much to them. Your teen needs you to spend time with them. They probably won’t tell you that, but they do. If you don’t spend time with them, they simply can’t learn from you. Just being in the room doesn’t count. We all have crazy schedules and there are many things vying for our time, but time with our kids should be quality and free from distractions. Turn off the Blackberry and give your teen your attention. And set aside reliable time to spend with your kids.
Welcome your teen’s friends. As frightening as it sounds, studies have consistently shown that parents do not have as much influence over their children as their children’s friends do. So, know their friends. Make your home an inviting place for them all to hang out. There’s no substitute for knowing your child’s friends and having them in your home as opposed to having them out-and-about running loose (and you stressing about it). Granted, you need to give your child their freedom, but make your home a place they can always have friends over… make sure your child and their friends know that your home is a safe place they are always welcome to come and hang out. Friends are absolutely formative to a teen’s world and you being part of that creates a better relationship with your children.
Ask the questions you know are on their mind. Teens don’t often express what they want to ask you, but if you’ve spent any time with your child, you can probably sense it. They need you as a sounding board for guidance and advice. Raise the questions you know they want to ask.
Let your teen make some choices. Within reason, give them some leeway to make choices, even if they’re awkward for you. Let them pick what’s on the radio in the car, where you grab dinner, a project to tackle together, or where to take a vacation. Remember that what seems like a little decision to you may seem like a big decision to your teen. Allow them the satisfaction of knowing you trust them enough to do so.
Ben Murphy is a husband, father, artist, and founder and CEO of The Father Life. He and his family live in upstate New York.
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