In essence, teenage years are a period of growth and development as an individual outside of the family. Teens are most often craving independence and autonomy, much like the toddler or “terrible 2” years. It is vital to your child’s development that they are permitted to stretch their wings a bit, within reason, so that they are able to develop a sense of self-efficacy around their ability to effectively interact with the world. Will they make mistakes? Most likely they will. However, my view is that life is not about avoiding mistakes but making lots of mistakes and hopefully learning from each one. Plus, it’s important for a person to cope through their mistakes and to make some mistakes while the stakes are a bit smaller (prior to adulthood).
Here are some tips to help you along the way:
- Respect your teen’s need for independence and autonomy: The last thing you want to do is make a teen feel suffocated as that leads to increased rebellion and “push back.” For many parents, it is challenging to have your child suddenly stop wanting to be around you, close off, or be so moody. It’s important to recognize the teen years as an important step towards your teen becoming a self-sufficient adult and that it is important for them to go through the process of individuating from the family. The better you can tolerate this distance, the more likely it is that your teen will come to you and talk on their own time. Remember, it has to be their idea, not yours!
- Trust and faith: It’s so important for parents to learn to trust their teen and to provide him/her with opportunities to show trustworthiness. Rather than parenting from a position of fear and anxiety about how the teen years could catastrophically impact your child’s future, parent from a position of faith. Faith in the process of growing up and becoming an adult and faith that your child has the skills to do so, partially because you have laid a strong foundation for them by parenting in a way that supports their development.
- Have an open door policy: As a parent of a teenager, you have the unique opportunity to support your child through some very important phases of development. The best way to create this environment though is by keeping open communication and encouraging your child to talk with you, even if what they are saying is hard to hear. It is key to try and remain non-judgmental and non-reactive (for the most part) so that they continue sharing information with you.
- Try to let go of some control: The more you can help your teen gain independence and autonomy through making their own choices, the better. It’s hard to take a step back as it might feel like you are parenting “less,” however, letting your child make a lot of their own decisions gives them so much more of an opportunity for mistakes and learning through those mistakes. This is an important part of the teen years and as long as the consequences are not too dire and your teen’s actions are not too risky, I think it is important to allow them to fail sometimes so that they can learn what it really takes to succeed.
- Maintain Expectations: While it is important to keep a relationship with your teen, it is equally important to keep boundaries and expectations for them. Never sacrifice expectations in order to have a relationship with your child as this teaches your child that expectations are negotiable, which they are not. If your child is struggling to meet expectations, it could help to involve them in a discussion about the expectations while providing choices. Choices help the teen take responsibility for their decisions rather than project their anger onto their parents. Just remember, boundaries and rules are just as important to a teen as they are to a younger child, they just need to be age appropriate!
- Keep things in perspective: The teen years can be so challenging for many teens and parents. Just try and keep it in perspective that these challenges are not necessarily indicative of how things will “ALWAYS” be in your family, it’s a temporary phase and the most important part is to help your child by continuing to create a relationship with them, giving them space and independence to start going out in to the world, supporting them through their decisions, and providing consequences when they make the mistakes that they are likely going to make. All of this is natural and a normal progression of human development!
Thank you for reading! Please feel free to share this information or leave other tips and ideas for parenting teens in the comments! Thanks!