by Karen Star
Anyone who has ever parented a teenager knows the struggle. As they go through the maturation process from child to adult, the Jekyll & Hyde range of emotions for both generations can be overwhelming. Teens are attempting to live life on their own terms but are still very stuck between needing us and wanting to break out and live life according to their own terms.
Rather than acting out of fear, it is often helpful instead to lead with love and consistency. Our role is to give our teen a safe structure to help to navigate through this very complicated and anxiety-filled portion of their lives.
It’s critical during the teen years for parents to remain their children’s emotional and moral compass. Kids will begin to experiment with more intimate relationships outside the family. But to do that successfully, they will need to maintain a solid and trusting relationship with their parents.
Key steps in raising a confident, happy young adult
- Reinforce that they have the power to make their own decisions.
- Set reasonable and achievable limits.
- Teach important skills without lecturing (make your point and move on).
- Allow your kids to fail – then have constructive conversations after the fact. Inspire self-confidence by asking, “What would you like to do differently the next time?”, rather than shaming, etc.
- Don’t just talk the talk – walk the walk (Set the right example).
- Value the importance of connection. It is sometimes helpful to ask your teen how they are feeling about the situation prior to giving advice or correcting in any way. This will show you are being attentive and actively listening rather than casting any type of judgment. This process will also involve using good eye contact and not interrupting when you feel a comment or question arise. Your main role at this time is to gain their trust without taking a side.
- Establish dependable time together — meet your teen in their world. Listening to their favorite music, shooting baskets with them or having lunch together at their favorite place may help to strengthen your bond.
When some inevitable negative behavior occurs, try not to criticize or belittle your teen. Instead, focus on what the problem is and why you are concerned about it. Most importantly, involve the teen in finding a solution.
Set clear and consistent rules and establish fair consequences for breaking those rules. For example, if your son or daughter breaks curfew, it may make sense to remove driving privileges or move their curfew up a couple of hours. Grounding them for a week will not teach them anything relative to their offense. Allowing natural consequences to play out will help in them avoid repeating the behavior. Be consistent in enforcing the consequences when teens break the rules. It is often very difficult to watch your teen work through feelings of anxiety and anger, but in doing so, they will begin to learn valuable life skills.
Get to know your teen’s friends. Forbidding them from seeing friends you don’t like will most likely chip away at the trust you have built. It may help to express your concerns in a non-blaming way rather than trying to exclude them from your child’s life.
Remember independence is a vital and exciting part of growing up. Overcoming difficult obstacles, experimenting with risks and gaining increased control over what happens to them are all essential skills for a teens as they prepare to become independent and responsible young adults.
“The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” ~Jim Henson