Parenting a teenager is no easy task. Parenting your adolescent son or daughter during the turbulence of this transitional period is an art. Ask anyone who’s involved in doing this job. They’ll tell you that you don’t fix your kids during this time-frame; you just stay on the edge of the storm. Parenting takes a great deal of courage, patience, and learning through trial and error.
As a therapist, parents frequently ask me, “What are some guidelines to keep in mind which will help me and my youngster navigate the adolescent years?” The following principles are ones that I have found important as I have raised my own children and worked with other teens in schools and clinical counseling situations. There are no “magic bullets”, but hopefully these suggestions with be of assistance to you.
- Get in Touch with your own Child-Within.
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? What kinds of experiences did you have? Can you unblock any painful memories? Can you relive positive memories and experience them in the present moment? What’s that feel like? It is important to recapture your own childhood so that you can stay connected to your teen and do not live vicariously through her experience. Understanding your own childhood will allow you to continue emotional contact and share lighthearted common experiences with your child. Shared playful activities, such as going to a ball game, biking together, or taking a fishing trip together can build bridges. Maintaining positive physical contact with your teen is critically important. Although your child may not request physical affection, initiating it is important to maintaining a strong emotional bond.
- Teach the Lessons of Life through Shared Experiences.
Resist the urge to moralize, lecture, and give unwarranted advice. Your child will tune you out. It is more effective to use positive and negative consequences as a way of setting limits. One method I used to reach my kids about current issues was through the use of the media. Often, I would come across articles which had a direct impact on teen problems. For example, I would talk with my kids about their “heroes” who went astray through self-medicating. I would ask them to read the article and ask them how they felt about it. Sometimes when my teens had made mistakes, I would share my own blunders in a connecting way and then we would explore better ways of behaving.
- Major in the Majors Issues, not the Minors. Know your Bottom-Line Expectations and Beliefs.
Be firm, courageous and unified on the big boundary issues. Don’t get locked into focusing on minor issues which distract from your most important values. What tint your teen decides to use as hair color may not be as critical as how he treats other people. Set consequence that are reasonable and be consistent in enforcing them!
- Don’t Over-Function on Behalf of your Child.
Never do for your child what he can do for himself. Failing to follow this policy is an invitation for your teen to avoid responsibility for his behavior. I can’t tell you the number to times that I used to facilitate parent/ student/teacher conferences where the parents anxiously took notes during the conference while their child “snored” his way through the experience. Remember, who owns the problem?
- Keep a Sense of Perspective.
Talk about your own feelings with your teen. By sharing yourself, you keep the doors of communications open. Learn to keep mistakes in perspective. Just how horrible is this problem? Very few mistakes are catastrophic. For example, my daughter came home extremely late from a party in high school. My first reaction was to confront her and chastise for her inconsiderate behavior. I had tried that disciplinary action before and it accomplished nothing productive. Consequently, this time when she got home, I attempted to promote understanding by telling her how afraid I was about her late arrival. My response surprised her and opened the door for us to talk about the issue from my perspective.
- Discuss Goal-Setting with your Teen.
Kids, during the teenage years, have trouble making a connection between the present moment and the future. Teenagers need the opportunity to explore their dreams. They need help in finding their niche. Talk with you child about her shot-term and long-term plans. Goal-setting helps kids stay grounded and active in the present. When my son showed an interest in music, I did everything possible to encourage his activity in that area. I paid for private lessons, and attended his concerts regularly.
Never give up hope. As difficult as things may get for you and your teenager, change is always possible. Remember, there are no sacred ways of parenting. If one plan doesn’t work, try an alternative strategy. Try a paradoxical (opposite) manner of handling a problem. You might be surprised at the results. Never forget that ultimately your teen should be held responsible for the choices he makes.