Parenting a teenager can be both challenging and rewarding. Many teens have conflicting feelings about growing up and aren't yet able to gracefully manage these emotions. They can be inconsistent with their affections, argumentative, and at times even hurtful. As your teen struggles with becoming independent, it is natural for him or her to detach from you at times. Remember that your teen still needs you. Although he or she may not ever let on, your unconditional love and guidance are important and valued.
The following suggestions may help you communicate with and support your teenager during a time of uncertainty and change:
- Stay connected. Go to your teen's games and performances. This tells your teen that he or she is important and opens the door to communication.
- Give your teen responsibilities. Assign jobs around the house, such as caring for younger siblings, cooking one night a week, making his or her own lunch, and other responsibilities. Trusting your teen with regular duties helps build self-confidence and promotes a sense of accomplishment.
- Set clear rules. Remove emotion from discipline, and focus on natural consequences. If you are firm, fair, and consistent about your rules, your teen will know what to expect. Also, doing this helps you to respond to problems appropriately. For example, if both you and your teen know the consequence of missing curfew, it will prevent you from reacting leniently some of the time and overreacting other times.
- Accept that your way isn't the only way. Recognize that your teen will likely approach tasks or situations differently than you. For example, your teen may do homework with a headset on while lying on the floor of his or her extremely messy room. You may view this as an undisciplined and chaotic environment that makes it impossible to concentrate. But focus on the outcomes. If your teen consistently gets good grades, accept that his or her methods work.
- Be flexible. Teens want and need boundaries with limits that fit their age and development. As your teen matures, change rules as appropriate to reward responsible behavior. Also, realize that being fair sometimes means agreeing to bend the rules. Teens are less likely to resent a parent who discusses situations rationally and in an adult manner. Sometimes finding a compromise with your teenager is the most effective solution, because teens, like most people, often react poorly to too many hard-and-fast rules.
- Believe in your teen. Recognize that we all go through difficult phases. Although some teens struggle, most teens manage common challenges without major problems. Many teens develop a sense that they are not living up to an idealized view of how they should be. Accept that your teen is not perfect and will inevitably make some mistakes. Let him or her know your love is unconditional.
- Help your teen set goals. Teens learn how to think strategically when parents encourage them to set goals and help them develop a plan to reach them.
- Listen. It sounds so simple, but it is one communication skill that parents often have the most trouble with. Be sensitive to and alert for cues that your teen needs to talk. Don't be quick to offer advice—give it only if requested. Sometimes teens just need someone to listen to them. They often can find the right answers by themselves.
- Set an example. Strive to model your own beliefs and values in your behaviors so that your child can emulate not only what you say but also what you do. To encourage community involvement, for example, you could volunteer together with your child. As your teen nears adulthood, he or she will pay more and more attention to your actions.
Current as of: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics