Tips for Parenting During the Teen Years
Looking for a roadmap to find your way through these years? Here are some tips:
Read books about teenagers. Think back on your own teen years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing early — or late. Expect some mood changes in your typically sunny child, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she matures as an individual. Parents who know what’s coming can cope with it better. And the more you know, the better you can prepare.
Put Yourself in Your Child’s Place
Practice empathy by helping your child understand that it’s normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it’s OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.
Pick Your Battles
If teenagers want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents and it’s a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; leave the objections to things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs.
Maintain Your Expectations
Teens will likely act unhappy with expectations their parents place on them. However, they usually understand and need to know that their parents care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and adherence to the rules of the house. If parents have appropriate expectations, teens will likely try to meet them.
Inform Your Teen — and Stay Informed Yourself
The teen years often are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviors. Don’t avoid the subjects of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; discussing these things openly with kids before they’re exposed to them increases the chance that they’ll act responsibly when the time comes.
Know your child’s friends — and know their friends’ parents. Regular communication between parents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all teens in a peer group. Parents can help each other keep track of the kids’ activities without making the kids feel that they’re being watched.
Know the Warning Signs
A certain amount of change may be normal during the teen years, but too drastic or long-lasting a switch in personality or behavior may signal real trouble — the kind that needs professional help. Watch for one or more of these warning signs:
- extreme weight gain or loss
- sleep problems
- rapid, drastic changes in personality
- sudden change in friends
- skipping school continually
- falling grades
- talk or even jokes about suicide
- signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
- run-ins with the law
Any other inappropriate behavior that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your teen’s behavior or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn’t suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn’t suddenly become constantly withdrawn. Your doctor or a local counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you find proper counseling.
Respect Kids’ Privacy
Some parents, understandably, have a very hard time with this one. They may feel that anything their kids do is their business. But to help your teen become a young adult, you’ll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your child’s privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it’s a good idea to back off.
In other words, your teenager’s room and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn’t expect your teen to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where teens are going, what they’re doing, and with whom, but you don’t need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn’t expect to be invited along!
Monitor What Kids See and Read
TV shows, magazines and books, the Internet — kids have access to tons of information. Be aware of what yours watch and read. Don’t be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer or the TV. Know what they’re learning from the media and who they may be communicating with online.
Make Appropriate Rules
Bedtime for a teenager should be age appropriate, just as it was when your child was a baby. Reward your teen for being trustworthy. Does your child keep to a 10 PM curfew? Move it to 10:30 PM. And does a teen always have to go along on family outings? Decide what your expectations are, and don’t be insulted when your growing child doesn’t always want to be with you. Think back: You probably felt the same way about your mom and dad.
Will This Ever Be Over?
As kids progress through the teen years, you’ll notice a slowing of the highs and lows of adolescence. And, eventually, they’ll become independent, responsible, communicative young adults. So remember the motto of many parents with teens: We’re going through this together, and we’ll come out of it — together!