In the middle of a particularly hard week dealing with bad moods, messy rooms, late homework, and lost soccer jerseys, my wife and I realized that we needed a reset with our sons. They were, and are, terrific kids in so many ways. Fun, kind, active, and curious; they had been pretty easy to raise all things considered. Well, until they became teenagers. I’m not saying that teenagers are inherently difficult – and I think we’ve had it pretty easy, actually. But teens’ lives – and needs – are more complex. At the same time, our own expectations of them necessarily change quite a bit as they grow up. But the change happens slowly, and sometimes we fail to fully respond to it.
Part of our challenge was practical. My wife and I both work full time, and evenings were typically filled with an improvised performance of making dinner, supervising homework, shuttling to soccer practices, and at times trying to get a few moments on our own to exercise – or just to say hello to each other for more than a minute.
More than that, though, what parent doesn’t want to raise confident, resilient, thoughtful kids who one day will be able to live and thrive on their own? The problem is that we rarely take the time to think through exactly what it is that we want these budding adults to do differently when they become teenagers. Sure, there’s the tangible “help around the house, excel at homework” etc. More fundamentally, they need to develop the beginnings of wisdom. They need to develop the self-insight and vision that will motivate them to work hard and achieve the things that are important to them. They need to learn how to balance short-term desires and longer-term goals. They need to balance meeting their own needs with the needs of others around them. They need to develop confidence, along with humility. Passion along with resilience. It’s a lot to figure out, especially when you’re used to just worrying about what position you’ll play on the soccer team this year, what’s for dinner, and how to get your homework done quickly enough to get online and play some Roblox.
Even when we have an idea about what sort of adults we’re trying to raise, I think we tend to take for granted the basic act of clearly communicating our expectations to our children in a way that they will understand and, hopefully, embrace. Part of that is explaining not only how we want them to think and behave, but why. And the why can’t simply be based on the fact that as parents we get to set the rules. It needs to be compelling to them, and framed in a way that helps them understand that beyond managing through the moment, your primary goal is for them to become fully functioning, happy, thriving adults.
So, we developed a “teen manifesto,” had them read and sign it, and then we taped it on the front of the fridge. Change didn’t happen overnight. Lots of “moments” and conversations followed, of course. And we had plenty of opportunities over the years to send them back to the fridge for a little review. They might still not fully appreciate the value of some of these points until they are older and off on their own. But, I think just sharing some explicit expectations like this complemented and clarified all the other things that we were trying to do – and maybe gave them some perspective and guidance even during times that we were distracted by our own needs and challenges.
Our teen manifesto is immediately below. Feel free to download the pdf file, print it, and put it on your own fridge. Or, copy and modify it to better suit your own situation and priorities. And, if you have ideas or feedback, please add some comments to the thread below.
- I AM RESPONSIBLE
What: I take full responsibility for managing my own school work by making and using a weekly schedule.
Why: Everyone is busy with their own lives; we will support each other, but we are individually responsible for our own work and learning.
- I AM AMBITIOUS
What: I have high expectations and standards; I take pride in my work and my behavior. I care about grades and I care about my own learning and growth.
Why: I don’t know what I will choose to do in the future, but the more I learn and the more successful that I am at school, the more opportunities I will have.
- I TAKE INITIATIVE
What: I will do the work that is needed without being told to.
Why: I know what needs to be done, and I need to learn to be as self-reliant as possible.
- I WORK FIRST
What: I will “work first, play later”.
Why: It feels good to get work done, to enjoy ‘free time’ without worrying, and sometimes the work might take longer than I expect – so I don’t want to leave things to the last minute.
- I AM RESILIENT
What: When something is difficult and I struggle, I realize that this doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it just means I can’t do it yet; while I might feel frustrated or sad at first, I turn quickly to figuring out what I can do to overcome challenges.
Why: Feeling challenged is a normal part of life. How I respond to challenges is what matters. Making mistakes is part of life, too; but I want to avoid making the same mistake twice.
- I SEEK CHALLENGE
What: I look for opportunities to stretch my current comfort level, knowledge, and skills.
Why: Growth comes from responding to challenge. While too much of a challenge can be stressful, too little is boring and won’t help me develop to my full potential.
- I ASK FOR HELP
What: I will ask for help when I need it; I will first carefully read and use the resources that have been given to me, but I will not hesitate asking my teachers and my parents for help when I need it.
Why: My teachers and parents want me to succeed, they are great resources, and they are eager to help when I ask them to.
- I AM TRUSTWORTHY
What: I will always be honest: with teachers, parents, friends, and with myself.
Why: Being dishonest causes stress and hurts my relationships with other people.
- I TAKE CARE OF MYSELF
What: I will take care of myself by choosing healthy foods and drinks, by exercising, getting enough sleep, spending time with friends, doing things I enjoy, and trying new activities that seems interesting.
Why: Being healthy feels great, and makes the challenges in life much easier to deal with.
- I AM OPTIMISTIC
What: I am hopeful and I do my best to be positive, even when faced with challenges.
Why: I can’t control everything; I can’t have, or be, everything that I want. But I am grateful for all that I do have and all that I am; I choose to go through life looking for, finding, and sharing beauty, truth, joy, compassion, and love.