Congratulations, you’re doing the impossible—you’re a parent to a teenager. You’re dealing with hormones, self-absorption, vulnerability, insecurity and rebellion on the day-to-day and doing your very best to be there for your child through it all. The teen years are incredibly trying, both for you as a parent and for your kid as they try to navigate their adolescence. While it’s important to set rules and remind your teen that their actions have consequences, it is equally as important that you remain flexible and allow your child adequate room to grow.
A Changing Relationship
One of the main goals of the teen years is to achieve independence. Often this results in the child pushing away from the parent to whom they are closest. For instance, a kid who was extremely agreeable may begin to assert themself in strong, seemingly rebellious ways. Ask yourself certain questions when attempting to understand your child: “Am I a controlling parent?”, “Do I listen to my child?”, “Am I ok with the fact that my child’s tastes might differ from my own?”
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Try to remember what it was like to be a teenager: wondering whether or not you’d ever hit puberty, dealing with terrible acne, your first heart-rending crush. Read books on teens and prepare yourself for the inevitable mood swings that come with development. Communicate with your child and let them know that even you don’t have things completely figured out and that what they’re feeling is totally normal.
Talk it Out
Keep the lines of communication open and don’t shy away from the tough conversations (sex, menstruation, wet dreams, bodily changes and new urges). Your kids may squirm and say “Stop! That’s so gross!” but attempt to be their source, the person they come to with questions. Remember that it’s always better to be in the know.
Pick Your Battles
Black fingernails, dyed hair, ‘weird’ clothes, screamo music—your teen is probably looking to shock you as well as to establish their difference from their peers. Think twice before you go after the smaller things. Try to understand why your child wants to alter their appearance or why they enjoy the music that they do instead of attacking their choices outright. Listen when they speak and explain your own reasoning; for example, if you’re worried about how your teen will be perceived, explain this to them and allow them to react.
Flexibility doesn’t mean letting your child get away with whatever they want; in fact, most teenagers equate reasonable expectations with you caring about them. Expect your child to get good grades and to follow your house rules (chores, curfew etc.), for example. If your teen believes that your expectations are reasonable, they will most likely try to meet them.
Respect Your Child’s Privacy
This is a big one. Unless your teen is exhibiting dangerous warning signs, it is important that you give them space. This means that texts, emails, phone calls and diary entries are off limits. When your teen goes out, you’re obviously entitled to know their whereabouts, who they’re with and when they’ll return home but you should always start with trust. Let your child know that you trust them and that their freedoms will be restricted only if and when that trust is broken.
Don’t Take the Brush Off Personally
In the end, the fact that your child may not want to spend tons of time with you is not a personal insult. It’s simply a part of the developing process. Establish certain family time—weekly dinner, perhaps—but be flexible and understand that this is a natural part of life.
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