Doritos, SunChips, Cheetos, pizza, soda, cookies, cake – the list is never-ending! Sound like what’s filled your own cupboards at home? Has your teen taken over the kitchen? This may not be such a bad thing.

The teenage years are some of the most difficult years in a person’s life. It is a time for growing, for exploring, for learning independence. Your teen will be trying new things – whether it’s food, hobbies or relationships. The key is to keep your teen close, recognize the changes he is going through and remind him that you’re always around if he needs to talk.

Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and parenting expert, writes, “It’s appropriate for kids to become increasingly independent throughout their teen years. But it’s critical, for most of those years, for parents to remain their teen’s emotional and moral compass.  Kids will begin to experiment with intimate relationships outside the family, but to do that successfully, they still rely on those intimate relationships at home remaining solid.  That means that a teen who rebuffs parental bids for contact is probably looking outside for something he wasn’t getting at home.”

So your teens want to hang out at home? They want to use the house for themselves, invite their friends over, fill up the kitchen space? Let them. Enjoy it now and encourage them to spend more time there. If you’re worried about the choices they’re making – foods, down time, schoolwork, relationships – talk to them. They may act like they’re not listening, but they are.

If you’re worried about your kitchen being overrun with junk food and messes, be sure to leave some easily accessible fruits and vegetables, crackers and cheese out just before the kids arrive and overrun the house! Leave plenty of paper towels and napkins, paper plates and cups, and a garbage close by.

Worried about other things in your son’s or daughter’s life? A boyfriend who makes you uneasy? A failed exam? Staring too long at the television or playing video games for hours on end? Encourage your teens to talk to you. Make sure they understand you are always around when they need you. Realize that your teen will make his own decisions and the best you can do is guide him to the right one.

Markham continues, “The most important part of staying available is your state of mind. Your child will sense your emotional availability. Parents who have close relationships with their teens often say that as their child has gotten older, they’ve made it a practice to drop everything else if their teen signals a desire to talk. This can be difficult if you’re also handling a demanding job and other responsibilities, of course. But kids who feel that other things are more important to their parents often look elsewhere when they’re emotionally needy. And that’s our loss, as much as theirs.”

We don’t often think about it, but there are plenty of teenagers in the Bible – they all act differently, but they all make decisions on their own. Joseph is only 17 years old when he faces many tormentors, but eventually rescues Israel from famine. David is of a similar age when he saves a lost sheep and later defeats the giant Goliath. And Esther, who has her own book in the Bible, was just a teenager when she married King Xerxes and later saved her people from the murderous intentions of the king’s right-hand man.

While we don’t expect anything quite that extraordinary from our own teens, we do expect them to grow up into respectful, happy, successful adults so that they, in turn can teach their own children the same morals you’ve taught them. So when your teen wants to throw a party at the house, pig out on potato chips, see that movie you thought might be a little too scary, give her a break. Let your teen be a teen. Let her grow, make her own decisions and learn from them on her own – with a little help from you when they ask for it.

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