What Your Teen Really Needs

The key to your teenager's happiness isn't what you think

Q. With three busy teenagers, our family life is incredibly chaotic. The stress is impacting the kids and our marriage. How can we get our lives back on track?

A. While it is probably wise to re-evaluate your family activity level and scale back a bit, I find that families often make themselves busy in order to avoid the deeper issues that add stress to the family. So many of the parents of teens I know spend the bulk of their time in crisis mode. They spend their waking moments moving from breakfast to laundry to meetings to soccer practice to homework to dinner to church to the bills, and finally, to bed. I see them spinning the plates of marriage, children, work, home, church, extended family, and volunteer work. They tell me they are afraid that if they quit spinning, a plate will crash. So they keep on spinning.

Unfortunately, the plate that often gets neglected is the marriage. Sadly, it's often the kids who suffer the most when a marriage falls apart. Teens still need a strong home base and the sense of security that comes from knowing the adults in their lives are happy and healthy. In other words, when you work at making your marriage healthy, you will reduce the stress in your entire family.

One couple I know, Greg and Dana, hit a crisis when their kids were teenagers. Their marriage had never been what you would call a model marriage, but raising teenagers put too much strain on the relationship. Dana was pouring her life into her kids. Greg was pouring part of his energy into the kids and the rest into his work. On paper they looked good: They were active in church, hardly ever missed their kids' games, and helped with homework most every night.

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