Recently the Facebook page “Parenting Teens & Tweens” shared a list of things parents shouldn’t stop doing just because their kids have become teenagers. It’s a good list, with things like showing physical affection and saying “I love you.” These are practices worth continuing, whether a child is 6 months, 6, or 16.
Here are a few more suggestions for things parents shouldn’t stop doing simply because a child has entered double digits. While many parents discontinue these practices when their children reach a certain age, there’s no good reason to do so. Families that maintain these habits will nourish a stronger connection with their children and help their children lead happier, healthier lives.
1. Read with Them
Many parents read bedtime stories to their children when they’re very young and need help going to bed, but quit when the children are old enough to put themselves to bed. Yet the benefits of reading aloud as a family are not age-specific, and there’s no reason to stop reading together, at bedtime and other times, as long as a child is at home.
2. Sing with Them
There’s something about a baby that invites a song, encouraging even the most bashful singer to coo a chorus of “Hush, Little Baby” or “Old MacDonald.” We’re not singing to our babies or each other as much as we used to. But singing together, like reading together, has benefits far beyond the preschool years. It’s a practice we should cultivate in any way we can, beginning with our families.
3. Eat with Them
This one is included on the “Parenting Tweens and Teens” list, and for good reason. Many families eat together when the children are young, but stop doing so as the kids get older and schedules get more complicated. That is all the more reason to make family mealtime a priority. To share a meal is to share much more than food. Some days it may be the only time a family spends together.
4. Expect Them to Treat You with Respect
Contrary to popular opinion, children don’t turn into monsters as soon as they hit adolescence. Teenagers are just slightly older versions of the same people they’ve always been. If we’ve done our job as parents, they have learned some things about how to treat others, and there’s no reason those lessons should stop applying, at any age.
5. Tell Them Family Stories
When I was a little girl, I loved listening to my parents tell stories about their childhood. As I got older, I wasn’t always as willing to listen, and they didn’t push me to do so.
Now that they’re gone, I find myself wishing I could ask them to tell me more stories. In a 2013 piece for The Atlantic, psychology professor Elaine Reese details the ways children benefit from hearing family stories. They “demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions … have higher self-esteem and stronger self-concepts. … more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety.”
Reese adds that “family storytelling can help a child grow into a teen who feels connected to the important people in her life.” Tell your children their family’s stories. It will help them know who they are.
6. Praise Them
Remember how you used to display every smudged drawing, misshapen sculpture, and droopy wildflower arrangement as if it were the most beautiful creation you had ever seen? Teenagers and young adults are too smart to believe you when your accolades are less than warranted. But they still want your praise.
Look for opportunities to give it, whether by celebrating a major accomplishment or simply expressing your appreciation when they help out around the house without being asked.
7. Require Them to Go to Church
Some church-going parents seem to have a misguided idea that if they “force” religion on their teenagers, they’re going to drive them away from the church, so they stop insisting on attendance and give their children “space” to “find their own way.” It’s not a wise choice.
When you let your kids skip church—because they had a late night out, they had to work, they have a lot of homework, or another reason—you send one message only: church is not important. Yet even secular studies have shown that children who are brought up in the church turn into happier, healthier adults who live more moral lives and who contribute more to their communities. Of greater importance, though, is that the story of God’s love is not one we should ever stop hearing, and the best place to do that is in church.
8. Pray With Them
Like reading to our children, this one often goes by the wayside when we’re no longer tucking our kids into bed. It shouldn’t. When you stop praying with your children, you model that prayer doesn’t matter. If you believe it does, look for other times to do it: at mealtime, driving in the car as you discuss the world’s problems, before significant events such as trips and graduations, at difficult times, and at times of joy and thanksgiving.
And if you’ve made a practice of family devotions, don’t stop simply because the kids are getting older. My children are 15, 23, and 26, and the older two still take part in family devotions when they are home.
There’s a widely held opinion that children’s needs vary dramatically from one stage of development to another. Certainly, they go from being completely helpless and dependent to gradually needing us less and less.
But children don’t become alien beings just because there is a “teen” at the end of their age. The things they need, in both childhood and adolescence, are the things we all need throughout our lives: a sense of community, the assurance of being loved, and a connection to the Word of God. If we help our children carry these things through their teenage years, they will be more likely to carry them to the grave.