No one ever said parenting teens was easy. In fact, parents of teens seek advice on the topic quite frequently, creating a need for helpful books and information exchanges on the Internet. Millions of parents around the world share your frustrations, confusion, doubt, and loneliness. Remember, it is healthy for a teen to assert his opinions and become his own person. Recall also what it was like for you to be a teenager and what issues you faced within your own family.
Connecting Across the Generation Gap
There is no single point in your child's life where she decides to have separate interests or a separate identity from her parents. Rather, this separation occurs gradually as your child learns to prefer her own types of food and entertainment and to connect with peers. During the teenage years, your child explores her interests, language, likes, and dislikes to develop a unique personality, usually with a group of same-aged individuals. People this age require independence but also guidance and support. This often makes your job difficult.
Finding Topics of Conversation
You and your growing child can connect by finding similarities in differences. Though you may sometimes feel like you're from different planets rather than the same household, you can likely find some shared interests. Perhaps you generally have different tastes in music, yet you both appreciate The Beatles. It's important to talk about general topics to explore each other's preferences and find a bit of common ground. Try discussing some of the following:
Talking About the Important Things
If you keep the lines of communication open by discussing general matters, it is more likely your teen will come to you with serious issues that occur during development. Positive communication behavior instituted when he or she was younger enables your teen to speak with you as needed. Unless you feel your child's safety is at risk, try simply listening as he talks. You'll be surprised what you find out.
Demonstrate Your Culture and Values
It's important that your adolescent knows where you stand on important, decisive issues. Realize your teenager may see things differently in spite of, or because of, his or her upbringing and outside influences. While major issues must always be discussed in any type of parenting relationship, realize they may become areas of strife between you. It is healthy for a child to develop his own views and beliefs as long as he does so safely. Sometimes it is best to simply provide positive examples rather than forcing your teen to attend certain activities or follow positive patterns.
You can reinforce your values by doing activities, such as the following:
- Attend (or refrain from attending) religious service
- Manage a marriage/relationship
- Balance the checkbook and budget money
- Set and work toward accomplishing goals
- Manage time effectively
- Balance work life with family/social life
By doing some of these activities in sight of your adolescent, you provide examples for him to consider in the development of his or her own personality. This method of parenting teens is passive and should not cause tension in your parent-child relationship.
Show Your Approval and Trust
One of the hardest things involved in parenting teens is learning to trust them and approve of their new-found independence. It's important to offer trust when appropriate and let them know that you are agreeing to a request because you trust them.
You know you are proud of your child, but amidst his or her active life, does your adolescent know? Your teen has probably developed wonderful talents or skills in part because you have encouraged it. Perhaps the same kid that produced a scribble hung on the refrigerator is now producing engaging art for graphic novels. It's important for you to acknowledge these developing talent and interests, as they provide your child with a sense of self-accomplishment. Expressing to your child what you enjoy about her will allow your teen to feel more confident in herself and further develop her talents.
Privileges, Responsibilities, and Limitations
Along with trust and approval come the privileges and responsibilities associated with coming of age. Your teen also needs a realistic sense of what it is like to be an adult in society. Explain that driving, for example, is a privilege, and for it, one has the responsibility of maintaining car insurance and payments.
At times, you must also set limits. While it's good to reward positive behavior, never allow yourself to be pushed into agreeing to ridiculous demands. It may be acceptable to extend a curfew for one night because of recent good behavior, but that doesn't mean it's a permanent extension.
Big Issues in Parenting Teens
Larger issues will always exist, regardless of whether your young adult has to confront them during these awkward years or later on. Know where you stand on these issues and make it known that you are open to discussing them:
Know the Danger Signs
Aside from the development of their own identity, adolescents face a great deal of peer pressure. Their bodies are also changing, and their hormones can produce mood swings. All of this is completely typical in development. However, it's important to be aware of any deeper issues affecting your teenager. Be aware of signs of the following serious conditions:
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Health problems/eating disorders
Usually, these larger problems have symptoms that can be corrected. Still, some young adults may require additional help despite your guidance. Consider seeking medical and professional help in these instances.
For more information about parenting teens, take a look at these books and websites:
- Parenting Teens with Love & Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay
- Stop Negotiating with Your Teen: Strategies for Parenting Your Angry, Manipulative, Moody, or Depressed AdolescentJanet Sasson Edgette by Janet Sasson Edgette
- Focus Adolescent Services
- AdoptionIssues.org - For parents of adopted children
- Teenagers Today
- Parenting Troubled Teens
A Graceful Transition into Adulthood
Parenting teens isn't always easy, and you won't always be perfect. Still, by educating yourself and working on fostering clear and open communication with your teen, you can help her transition gracefully into adulthood.