The school supplies have been purchased, the new backpacks loaded, and the kids have been dropped off for their first day back to school.  And like many of you, I find myself sitting alone in my home relishing the absolute silence that surrounds me.   The quiet moment of serenity allows me some much-needed time to think and reflect on the different stages of life of my two children.  My little guy is 9 and is enthusiastic about beginning third grade, while my daughter is transforming into a young lady right in front of my eyes.

We’re officially entering the ‘teens’ this year and my stomach churns just thinking about it.  We’re excited, but it is a very different season. Because of our travel schedule, we’ve always needed to have the kids in a private Christian school that can be more flexible – but it also has meant she’s had more friendship opportunities with kids who largely have the same worldview. For high school she’ll probably go to a huge public high school nearby. I want her to know how to be salt and light in a place that needs it, but I can’t help but worry a bit about the friends she’ll make, the temptations she’ll be faced with. After researching and interviewing a multitude of teens for my book, For Parents Only – Getting Inside the Head of your Kid, I learned firsthand how real many of my concerns can be.  But from that same research, I also learned a lot of encouraging facts.

One of the most important truths being that our teenage children need to feel secure in their ascent to adulthood.  Although they may not look or act it, teens need the security of knowing we’re making the effort to understand them.  Well, here I am with my own teen now, having to learn from and heed my own advice.

For us, this is a time to reassess our house rules.  Are they teen appropriate?

It’s also a time to look at our relationship with our teens.  How can we stay firm in our parenting responsibilities while still fostering a loving and embracing relationship with them?  It comes down to balance and a commitment to two things:  to being firm and consistent  in our expectations while building rapport with our kids.

For us, there are several ideas that we are considering, all of which were recommended by the teens we interviewed.  One idea is to have a “G&O” meeting with your child – much like a company might have a “Goals & Objectives” meeting at the start of a new year.  Now that they are growing up, we want to involve them in the process so they can take ownership of the plan. We, the parents, will lay out our expectations in terms of schoolwork, friends, extracurricular activity, and faith.  In turn, we’ll listen to their thoughts and incorporate their input.

Letting your child participate in the setting of their own ground rules helps show them that you are willing to begin viewing them on a more mature level.  And because our daughter has proven to us over the past few years that she is a moral and responsible kid, there are also some new privileges we’re considering giving her – a cell phone, a later bed time, etc.  It will be a sort of trade-off and a display of our confidence in her.

In addition to formulating and articulating our expectations of our daughter, we still need a plan for building and nurturing a genuine bond with her.  Here is a plan that I’m considering: One day a week for 30 minutes to an hour, we will have some “planned quality time” where I make a personal promise to just spend time with her.  This means I will have to take off my parenting hat, set aside my cell phone, and just be there for her … supporting her and listening to her.  No grilling.  No interrogating.  And the hardest of all – no judgment.  Yes – no judging … even when she’s telling me a story about a bad choice a friend made … no judging and no lecturing.  It’s going to be tough, but I can see the value in committing to it and more important, in committing to a relationship with her. For six days a week, we can be the enforcer, influencer, and coach.  And for 30 short minutes a week, we can set that role aside and just listen without instructional feedback. It can be a breakfast before school, a lunch together on Saturday; it can be after church, or during a manicure.  I think all of us can incorporate something like this in whatever way works in our own situation.  The point is time alone – one on one – with no distractions and no corrections.  A time to listen and to love.

How do you connect with your teen?