Parenting teens can be difficult. The closer to adulthood children get, the more likely they are to try to push away from their parents and become their own person. However, some teens push particularly hard, creating more conflict within their families—especially if they suffer from mental health disorders or substance abuse. In return, some parents push back too hard or do or say things they may later regret.
The difficulty in understanding teenagers can cause parent-teen relationships to be damaged, sometimes irreparably, during these crucial years. How can parents repair their relationship with their teen before it’s too late?
Listen to Your Teen
One of the biggest challenges of parenting is that just when parents feel they have mastered one phase of their child’s development and the associated skills required, the child grows and changes and requires a whole new set of parenting skills. For example, if a young child says, “Mommy, I’m scared,” a hug or two and some reassuring words will likely resolve the situation. However, when you child becomes older, you need to listen to your teen more carefully and not take things personally.
A teen might scream “I hate you!” when they are actually just anxious, afraid, or confused. However, many parents only hear the words—not the meaning behind them. Parents may not understand how to elicit the deeper meaning, and then to address it in a helpful way. Hence, parent-teen relationships can be easily damaged. As words and behaviors become more volatile, it can be overwhelming for parents and teens to try to mend the bonds between them.
This is why honing your listening skills is so important. Parents often take offense at the harmful words that teens use and do not hear the true message behind the words. The level of disrespect from their teen is what many parents focus on, instead of trying to understand emotions like pain, anger, fear, frustration, underlying the speech or behavior. That’s why parents can help their teens most if they set aside personal reactions and preconceived ideals of respect and obedience. Instead, truly listen to what your teen is trying to communicate with their words and behaviors.
Be Willing to Change
Humility may seem like weakness in a relationship, especially if it’s turning into more of a power struggle than a loving parent-teen relationship. However, humility is one of the most powerful tools that a parent can activate, particularly when parenting teens. Being willing to say “I’m sorry, I made a mistake” may prevent a rift between parent and teen. It may take more strength to be humble than it takes to be a demanding, punitive, “my way or the highway” kind of parent. However, when a parent’s precious relationship with their child is on the line, it’s a small price to pay to maintain an open conversation and understand emotions.
Maintaining and mending the parent-teen relationship requires parents to stay flexible and to be willing to shift their parenting styles and beliefs. One key is to remember that teens’ impulsive behavior and angry words aren’t truly meant to hurt you. A teen may be trying to make a connection or ask for help in the only way they know how. Therefore, discipline won’t help unless it comes with understanding teenagers by listening and showing unconditional love.
Have Realistic Expectations
While a parent’s dream is to have a loving, harmonious relationship with their teen, that is not realistic for most families. A relationship is built on mutual respect and effort, and it is also a living organism that can change as life changes. Having realistic expectations about your relationship during the adolescent years will support both the parent and teen in making it better.
Patience is also required. Parents whose teens are withdrawn and distant will not become their kids’ best friends overnight, or possibly ever. It is only through daily work and effort, and being willing to make the necessary compromises, that relationships can be healed. Making and keeping realistic expectations for those relationships can ultimately help mend the divide.
Love Them No Matter What
When there is a rift in the parent-teen relationship, resentment typically builds on both sides. The accumulation of this resentment can lead to long-term, potentially permanent damage to this cherished relationship. The effort a parent is willing to make to maintain the boundaries of parenting but also love their teen unconditionally can make or break this family tie.
Demonstrating through both words and actions that you love them no matter what, is one of the most important factors in building, rebuilding, and maintaining the parent-teen relationship. That doesn’t mean giving them everything they want or enabling their mental health or substance use disorder. It means making the time and effort to listen to and truly hear what they are really saying, being willing to adapt the relationship as the child (and the adult) grow and change and maintaining realistic expectations of what the relationship could and should be.
In addition, professional support may be helpful and perhaps necessary in order to mend a parent-teen relationship. If you are a parent struggling with your relationship with your teenager, reach out to Teen Rehab to find out more about how we can help.