Co-authored by Dennis Charles, professional mentor and amazing father of five
You’re busy with work and life, we know. But put it down for a minute. Stop what you’re doing, close your computer, and put attention on your teen. We all know that teens want to be more independent and to move away from their parents, but at the same time they know dad will be there for them. Always!
Working with teens is incredible. They spend a lot of time talking about how they can’t stand their parents; but at the same time, they also talk about how they wish they could spend more time with their parents, especially with their fathers. So dads, you have an opportunity here, and you need to step it up.
As mentors and dads, we teach teens how to foster healthy relationships and fill their lives with meaning. Our jobs as mentors are important, but our jobs as dads are far more critical.
Teens need their dads more than ever to step it up. Let’s talk about ways we dads can do this.
It’s about the time you spend
Close your computer and put attention on spending time with your teen. In fact, as soon as this article is finished, this thing is getting turned off. It’s not about being in the same place at the same time as your teen, it’s about making the time to actively participate. Show up in your teen’s life, participate in your teen’s life, become engaged with what they’re doing. This means more than any words you will speak. So often clients say, “My dad just doesn’t make the time; he’s too busy.” Participating is easy to do, so close the computer, put down the phone, and do it.
Find the commonalities. It can be difficult, but looking for those commonalities is important. Do whatever is necessary to stay connected. Do you know your teen’s interests? If not, it’s not too late to find out. You may even be surprised when you find something you have in common. It doesn’t matter if it’s spending time in nature or playing Xbox. Connect, find commonalities, and embrace them. We put so much pressure on our teens to succeed in school, go to college, be the best. Back off it and just enjoy what the two of you can connect on.
Model a way to live in the world. Model how to put attention on others. Model what it means to be respectful, to have character, to show up in life even when it’s difficult. Show your teen what it means to be a good friend, a good family member, a good member of your community. In a world too often filled with dysfunctional relationships, model healthy ones.
It’s time to update your role
Your role as a dad is to facilitate the movement of your teen from dependence to independence. In essence, you’re making your caregiving role obsolete and moving into what can be a much more fulfilling role, that of being present to your teen as they emerge into adulthood. Many dads fail to make this update. If you fail to update your role, it’s like trying to run a computer on Windows 95 in 2014. The results are not pretty.
When your child was younger, you needed to give them a lot of very specific input. You also needed to set very specific boundaries. You made the rules. The communication was one way – you to them. It’s time to update your role as a dad to one that your teen is going to respond to. And the communication most definitely needs to be kept open on a two-way street.
Think of it as becoming a trusted adviser for your teen. Someone who they feel they can come and check in with, and get input on decisions they need to make. They’re not coming to you to make the decisions for them any more (and if they do, you need to teach them some decision-making skills). It’s good to listen empathetically and be present for your teen. Ask if they’d like input. If they say no, then respect that. It builds trust over time. When they say yes, give them advice as the adult that they are becoming, not as the child they once were.
Done well, you will be able to guide your teen through the choppy waters of adolescence into the world of adulthood. Your relationship will remain strong. Your teen will know who to turn to when the going gets tough and they have a trusted adviser to turn to when they’re asking the larger questions in life.