The teen years are notoriously challenging for parents, but it is possible to have an adolescent who is responsible, considerate, and shows good judgment. Your teen is guaranteed to make some mistakes– after all, they aren’t a mature adult yet, and we adults make plenty of mistakes. But positive parenting can make the teen years more positive—for everyone!
The teen years
Teenage years are about making a transition into adulthood, so your child’s job is to find their sea legs as a person, to shape their own identity and to determine what’s important to them.
If you have a warm, affirming, open relationship where your adolescent feels respected and respects you, then you can count on generally easy teen years. Your child will honor your rules most of the time and initiate negotiations about the rules that do not work for them.
They will also be able to make reparations when they do make mistakes, and to solve problems. Because of their close relationship with you, they’ll be more likely to make the hard choice to do what’s right, regardless of peer pressure.
A parenting style that relies on the threat of punishment doesn’t give children the self-discipline to manage themselves, because the discipline all comes from outside And once your child hits the teen years, if you come down like a sledgehammer, you can count on rebellion. If you crack down on rebellion instead of listening to your teen’s needs, you can count on your child lying and sneaking around.
So how do you parent this blossoming person who sometimes seems to be a stranger?
1. You’re a parent, and a friend
Teens crave closeness with their parents, so they DO want the relationship to be a form of friendship. If you can express your acceptance of your child by empathizing and nurturing, they are more likely to open up and share with you.
As close as you want to be with your teen however, sometimes you will have to say “no”. Your teen will be looking to you to set limits they can’t set for themselves. When you and your child disagree, encourage her to come up with a win-win solution that answers both your concerns.
2. Keep the lines of communication humming
If you don’t know what’s going on, you lose all hope of influencing the outcome. Good communication with your teen relies on mutual respect, clear expectations, and support.
3. Expect your child to meet your expectations.
- Set clear limits. Ensure that your teen knows the non-negotiable family rules and the expectations that matter to you, and then negotiate anything else. One of the keys to getting teens to co-operate is respecting that they need to be in charge of as much of their life as possible.
- Support your child in meeting your expectations. If your child isn’t meeting your expectations, consider what kind of support he needs to do so.
- Foster accountability by ensuring that mistakes are an empowering opportunity where action can always be taken to make things better and initiate repairs.
- Help your child reflect on their behaviour and develop good judgement. Questions such as “What were you hoping would happen when you did this?” will always work better than lectures.
- Commit to respectful language and tone for everyone in the household. Yes, that means the grown-ups, too.
4. Try to be there after school
The biggest danger zone for drug use and sex isn’t Saturday night; it’s between 3pm and 6pm on weekdays. Be there if you can. If your child will be with friends, make sure there’s adult supervision, not just an older sibling.
5. Keep your standards high
Your teen wants to be their best self. Your job as parents is to support them in doing that. But don’t expect your child to achieve the goals YOU decide for them; they need to begin charting their own goals now, with the support of a parent who adores and believes in them.
6. Establish together time
An important factor in kids’ happiness and success is whether they feel they get time to “just hang out and talk” with parents, so be sure to check in every day. A few minutes of conversation, even if it’s just before bedtime or while cleaning up after dinner, can keep you tuned in and establish open communication. Meal times are also a great opportunity to talk about the day’s events, to unwind, reinforce and bond.
In addition to short daily check-ins, establish a regular weekly routine for doing something special with your teen.
Family meetings also provide a forum for communication including triumphs, grievances, sibling disagreements, schedules, and any topic of concern to a family member.
7. Encourage good self-care for your teens
Every teen needs 9½ hours of sleep and a good diet. Coffee is a bad idea for early teens because it interferes with normal sleep patterns. Too much screen time, especially in the hour before bedtime, reduces melatonin production and makes it harder for kids to fall asleep at night.
8. Keep computers in your common space
Research shows that your teen will be less tempted to spend time doing things you’d disapprove of if the computer is in a common space, where you can walk by and glance at what they are doing. Your child also stays connected to the family if the computer is in the heart of your home.
9. Don’t push your teen into independence
Every teen has their own timetable for blossoming into an independent person. Real independence includes close relationships with others, and it never needs to include rebelliousness. Pushing your child into independence only leads to them becoming overly dependent on the peer group.
10. Parent actively and appropriately
Don’t invite rebellion by refusing to acknowledge that your child is growing up and needs more freedom, but don’t be afraid to ask where your kids are going, who they’ll be with and what they’ll be doing. Get to know your kids’ friends and their parents so you’re familiar with their activities.
11. Stay connected
If you’ve accepted your child’s dependency needs and affirmed their development into their own separate person, they’ll stay connected to you even as their focus shifts to peers, high school and the passions that make their soul sing.
It’s appropriate for teens to want to spend more time with their peers than their parents as they get older, but kids who are well grounded in their families will respond well to parents’ efforts to stay connected. It’s critical, during the teen years, for parents to remain their children’s emotional and moral compass.