We are excited to introduce you to another friend and colleague of ours at Daystar. Sherman Bucher joined our staff years ago, and we continue to celebrate his arrival. He came to us with a years of experience partnering with students and families. He continues to journey with kids, adolescents and parents with this remarkable blend of strength and support... Today, we are giving you a taste of those qualities.
This article hit the press recently and he was gracious enough to share this wisdom on how fathers can navigate the complicated waters of adolescence. If you’re a father, mother, grandparent, educator, youth pastor or mentor, take a minute to think more about what the teenagers we love need from us.
Full Throttle vs. Cruise Control:
How Can Dads of Teens Know When to Press In and When to Pull Back
Sherman D. Bucher, Jr., M.A.
The Role of a Dad is an arduous journey to say the least. The quest placed at your feet delivers thousands of questions, few answers, and leaves out that practical owners manual that adequately addresses your teenager’s operating instructions. Can you just imagine that for a moment: An A through ZZ handbook for every possible adolescent malfunction? Talk about a New York Times Best Seller! Even without this colossus dad manual there exists a large amount of research & wisdom suggesting your strategy and posture with your teenager will require seasons of full court press and seasons of sideline coaching. At this stage you probably aren’t asking “Does my child really need a father?” You’ve found that answer to be a loud and resounding “YES!” However you might be contemplating“ What does my teenager need in me as a father?” Answer: It depends. What your teenager needs will depend on several factors, one of which is age and stage.
YOUNG TEENS (AGE 13-15)
Where They Are: The needs of your 13 year old 7th grade son struggling with peer pressure are far different than those of your 19 year old daughter entering her first semester as a college freshman. For starters, your young teen is in a stage of hormone overload and neurological remodeling. Imagine a complete overall of your kitchen or bathroom: Removing walls, re-tiling, updating appliances with new features. The brain of your early teen is hard at work redesigning itself in preparation for adulthood. As a result, their brain is primarily understanding everything through their emotional filter.
How They See You (Dad): Your teenager is beginning to see you as both a source of comfort and embarrassment. You will experience the “push pull”effect at this stage. One moment your son is talking about school struggles over pizza and the next he'sasking you to drop him off a half block from his friend’s house. Your teenager needs you but also needs space and separateness from you. This is a normal process but as a parent feels like you have left the paved highway for a gravel one with potholes at every turn.
What They Need:
- Space: Give your early teen space, but not too much. As your teen starts to identify himself/herself apart from you, it’s crucial that you give you him/her adequate space and privacy from time to time.
- Boundaries and Monitoring: While space and freedom are healthy, don’t hand them out without stipulations and guidelines . If your daughter wants to have an Instagram account, that permission should be granted with the expectation that you will check her account from time to time and set limits regarding how often, when, and where she can access Instagram.
- Your Voice Regarding Sex and Relationships: Your teen doesn’t need “The Talk” on sex and dating, but rather hundreds of conversations about sex, dating, pornography, and honoring his/her mind and body. It is not IF they are talking about sex but WHO they are talking to about sex. Fight your way into this conversation.
Where They Are:
As your teenager moves into the middle years of adolescence it is crucial for him/her to continue developing a sense of self and to formulate individual ideas and thoughts. This is a phase known as identity formation. At the same time your teen is becoming more aware of her own thoughts and beliefs, she is also becoming extremely ego-centric and hyper-sensitive to her appearance and behavior. A pimple or small blemish will be noticed by the entire school (in his eyes). Feelings, experiences, and events are primarily seen though the “How does this affect me” lens. Again, these are normal for this developmental stage but can become hurdles at times.
How They See You (Dad): Your teen is beginning to see you as both a source to consult on some matters and an outdated source for many of his life categories (friends, technology, school, media). Teens at this stage often experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows (in part related to lower dopamine levels in the brain vs. adults) and their vulnerability to share can be few and far between. You have become one of many voices in her life and currently her peers have become the loudest voice in her life.
What They Need:
- Availability: It is rarely at 8:00 AM around the breakfast table that your 16 year old opens up about school struggles or relationship woes. Rather it is around 10:45 PM when he/she is ready to dive deep into life’s messes. Expect the unexpected. It rarely happens on your time table.
- Opportunity to Succeed…or Fail: He needs permission & encouragement to try new things or take risks. She needs your support in triumph or defeat. Theodore Roosevelt said “The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything.” Give them the privilege of failing and learning.
- Room to Form an Identity: Be patient as your teen takes on and switches an identity like a pair of socks. This is normal. It’s all about your teen trying to find their voice. The most dangerous situation is if no desire or struggle exists. Watch out for this foreclosure.
OLD TEENS (18-20)
Where They Are: This is the “already but not yet” stage of adolescence. In many areas your teen is ready and not ready at the same time. Their bodies are sexually mature but they are not ready for marriage. They are considered adults by government standards and yet are years away from having a fully developed brain (frontal lobe) that can make rational decisions and think critically. They’ve outgrown some rules (and reasonably so) but they aren’t ready for complete and total freedom.
How They See You (Dad): This is the season you start to father more from a distance than daily instilling rules and regulations. This is congruent with how your teen starts to see and relate to you. He needs and wants less micromanaging from you(curfew and checking homework) but still needs you for bigger and new categories (buying a car, investing, job interviewing, etc). Don’t take her need of distance as a sign of disinterest. Remember they are still formulating their self and need you to remind them who they are from time to time.
What They Need:
- Your Blessing: Regardless of the vistas or valleys you’ve experienced with your teenager, he desperately need your blessing and support as he heads into the uncharted terrain of adulthood. Knowing you are still invested and present in this life will give him the support he needs to venture forth as an adult.
- Mercy and Grace: Remind her that their failures or mis-steps are not correlated with your level of affection. Give her kind gifts that are not merited and embrace her in failure alongside of correction
- Cut The Cord: At some point (and that point will vary with each teenager) you need to release some transactional support. It is time for your teenager to do their own laundry, pay for gas and insurance, etc. You won’t enable and foster independence as long as you do for your teenager what they are capable of doing for themselves.
Finally, remember that although a manual would seem idea to take on your quest as a dad, there is no formula. Ultimately it will be less of what you do, what you say, and more of how you were and what kind of feelings you inspired in your teenager that will cause a lasting impression. So rememberthat technique can never replace the power and authenticity of relationship.