Most parents – whether they admit it or not – react to the onset of their child’s teenage years with either trepidation or absolute dread. We look back to our own teenage years, and wonder how our parents lived through our fads, our raging hormones, our rebellion, and our attitudes. It’s almost as though, overnight, our parents went from knowing everything to knowing nothing, from understanding our hopes and dreams to being clueless about who we are and what we want out of life. Looking back, we know that parenting teenagers is no cakewalk, and can’t begin to imagine how we’ll survive the ordeal.
If only there was a parent handbook or parent directory, teens would be so much easier to raise. Even a family newsletter with tips and hints would be welcomed and make us feel as though we’re not alone in our journey. There’s never a doubt that we want what’s best for our children, but what are we supposed to do when we lose our equanimity and get sucked into yet another argument about friends or clothes or the car? Is there any hope of ever having another enjoyable family vacation? How do we know when our teenager just has the blues and when he or she is clinically depressed? If it’s the latter, what are the skills involved in parenting troubled teens?
Although we may approach our child’s teenage years with dread, the truth is that parenting teenagers can be rewarding. Here are four tips to get through those teenage years.
1. Acknowledge our power. Although our teens would be loath to admit it, we still wield an enormous amount of influence over them. We may not think they’re listening to us, but they are. During stressful times when we’re tempted to take the bait and lay down ultimatums or get into an argument, it’s important to remember that we’re still role models for our teens. The more often we take the high road, the more they’ll benefit.
2. Loosen the apron strings. It’s difficult to accept that the purpose of the teenage years is to separate and differentiate from parents. When our teenagers begin to develop their own personal tastes and opinions, and especially when they want to be treated “as adults,” it’s hard to find the right balance between maintaining control and allowing them to nurture their individuality. We have the right and the obligation to set rules and standards, but we can’t set them arbitrarily. If our teens demonstrate that they’re trustworthy, we must give them room to grow.
3. Be vigilant. It’s difficult to imagine that parenting teenagers is more difficult than parenting toddlers, but it’s true. We may have loosened the apron strings, but that doesn’t mean we should let go. All teenagers have secrets, and it’s our job to make sure that our teens’ secrets don’t have the potential to harm themselves or others. That doesn’t mean snooping (trust goes both ways), but it does mean staying involved in and aware of their activities and friends.
4. Listen with our ears and our hearts. Teenagers are notoriously uncommunicative, so listening is doubly important. This means listening both when they’re speaking and when they’re not. As the saying goes, silence can speak volumes, so it’s crucial to learn to interpret the different kinds of silence. We also need to learn to listen by asking. This doesn’t mean hounding our teens with questions, but asking their opinions and truly hearing what they have to say – without passing judgment or correcting them. All teens seek acceptance, and although most go through periods of feeling acceptance is lacking from their peers, we can fill in the gaps.
There’s no doubt that parenting teenagers is incredibly challenging. And the reality is that we may not see the fruits of our efforts for several years. But when we devote the time and develop the skills to effectively parent our teens, we will experience the rewards, both now and in the future.