Single Parent Survival Guide: The Teen Years

Ready or not, here they come.
The teen years = a challenge. Single parenting = a challenge. Single parenting through the teen years = exponential challenge. You may have just become a single parent or single parenting may be all the two of you have ever known. Either way, you want to grow together through the laughter and tears of the teen years.

You know the risks. You've read the statistics. You've heard the stories that circulate through the neighborhood. You're determined to beat the odds and see your teen live up to who you know he is. You're not just after dodging drugs and alcohol. You want your teen to excel, and you know he can. Here are some suggestions.

Be present to parent.
Your teen needs you to parent. It hasn't been that many years since you were on call 24/7 with an infant. The tricky thing with teens is that while they don't want or need you micromanaging every minute, they do have a few minutes each day when they will connect - even if it's just to ask why there's no food. Don't miss those split-second opportunities to laugh and problem solve together. If you do, they will feel abandoned. You know that feeling, and you don't want that for your teen.

Be present to communicate. Some kids, boys in particular, find it easier to talk in the car when mother's eyes aren't boring into their souls. Find what set of circumstances gets your teen to open up to you.

In today's world, it's almost unthinkable that your teen's life will not be touched by a tragedy in the life of a friend or classmate. Life's unspeakable disasters may bring vulnerability. You need to be available.

Tackle the technology.
Technology is a great tool to keep you and your teen connected. Teaching your teen to navigate technology is quite like teaching him to drive. Think about the safeguards that are put in place for new drivers - a permit, a series of restricted licenses, and then the loss of a license for irresponsible behavior. Follow that pattern in teaching your child to use technology. First, it's side-by-side with you; you see everything he sees. Then, he gets to visit a few sites alone under certain circumstances. Eventually, he'll work his way up to a measure of independence. Many families use an internet nanny such as Safe Eyes or Secure Teen to help with training. This is the age when inappropriate pictures of classmates start circulating. You want to protect your teen from seeing and sending such images. Dabbling on the internet without a strong moral compass is as dangerous as driving on the interstate without proper training and licensure.

Placing boundaries on your own use of technology helps to set a good example. Put the phone away at the table, during a parent conference, or at a doctor's appointment. Watch your teen's ballgame or concert. Live purposefully. Remember what's important right now.

Set clear, consistent rules with consequences.
Choose your battles. Avoid power struggles, word sparring, and tug-of-war. According to Mac Bledsoe, author of Parenting with Dignity, kids make the most important decisions of their lives when the parents aren't around. That means, you've got to focus on values and strength. The highest morals in the world won't do any good without the strength and discipline to follow through on them when authority figures are not around.

If your teen is shutting out your voice of authority and making poor decisions, don't be afraid to go to a school counselor, clergy member, or nonprofit community support program such as Teen Challenge.

Some topics are better discussed with a member of the same sex. If Mom and son or Dad and daughter aren't making headway on those awkward conversations, find an aunt, uncle, or respected neighbor who will step in to help.

While we'd like to say that single parenting no longer has a stigma attached, that's just not true. Discrimination from society can negatively impact your teen's emotional state and lead to a litany of bad choices. In addition to offering internet security, Secure Teen offers sound advice for raising a teen who is able to resist society's negative messages. Learn more here.

Know the friends and families.
For starters, find out the names of the kids your teen sits with at lunch or hangs with on the basketball court. Start to piece together an interesting fact about each friend. "Oh, Darla - she's the one who puts taco sauce on her pizza, right?"

Any of your suggestions on friendship will likely be met with an assurance of "Dad, I know how to choose good friends." Influence where you can, but at the least, be very informed.

Offer attractive incentives.
Does your child have a favorite home cooked meal? Buy the ingredients and encourage him to learn to cook dinner once a week.

Is he after a name brand sweatshirt? Offer money for chores or get a friend on board with your efforts who will let him work for a couple hours on the weekend.

Is it all about the big concert? OK - you can go, but I'll drive you and three of your friends.

Invest in the positive.
Build relationships with people who want your teen to be profoundly successful. If your child consistently has an hour or so after school before you get home, or if you work every Saturday, ask a mentor to "surprise" him with a visit. Of course, he'll know you sent this mentor to spy on him. That's OK. But then make it more than that. The mentor can drop off ice cream or dabble around with a little housework. Anything that let's your teen know that he's not completely on his own.

Learn together. Play purposeful games (and oh, how they eyes roll). For older teens, consider Rich Dad's CashFlow - a game to teach families about investing and business. Take a cooking class at the community center or a free yoga class at the local library.

You can raise a thriving, brilliant teen. It will take more time, money, and energy than you have within yourself; but you belong to a community that wants the same success for him that you do. Every pursuit except raising this teen will likely have to go on hold through these years, but it will be worth every bit of effort when he reaches adulthood whole and secure and ready for the next stage.