In this article, you will learn many ways that you can help your teens accomplish the developmental tasks of their age.
- What Can Parents Do?
- How Involved Should Parents Be?
- Applying the Principles of Democracy
- Crime and Punishment: How to Use Consequences
- The Power of Communication: The Key to a Healthy Relationship
- Using the Family Dinner Time
- Coping Strategies, Tips and Tools
- Things to Avoid
Much of what will help parents in dealing with their teens is to remember that being respectful of them is a key to maintaining a healthy relationship, and that a healthy relationship will go a long way toward allowing you to influence their behavior and decisions.
RESPECT——> HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP——-> INFLUENCE
Let go slowly
Parents of teens will not be as effective in controlling their teens in their day-to-day life as they had been when their children were younger. Teens will resent parents’ direct attempts to control them – remember that teens are working so hard to be independent and separate.
However, through a supportive and loving relationship, you can continue to have influence over your teen. Even if they don’t always let you know, they will be listening to your opinions and be guided by your values, if that positive relationship is in place.
Parents of teens still need to set limits and boundaries, say no when necessary, establish rules, discipline when rules have been broken, and impose consequences as needed. It is wise to let out the rope slowly, giving teens the opportunity for more responsibility for their own lives depending on their ability to handle it.
If you give them more freedom and privileges, and they show responsibility, then you can continue to give them that level of control over their lives; and you can gradually ease up more as time goes on, watching how they handle the increased freedom every step of the way.
By going slowly, you can pull the reins back in if you find that they don’t have the judgment to handle the new level of freedom, choice and responsibility. Remember too, that while they may be making more of their own decisions as they mature, they will still be interested in knowing your opinion.
Become a consultant
Michael Riera, in his book Uncommon Sense for Parents of Teens, calls this change the shift from being a manager to being a consultant. He states:
“As your children become teens, you are unceremoniously fired as a manager arranging appointments, planning activities, and being involved in all the details of their lives. Now to have a meaningful relationship with your child through adolescence and beyond, you must be re-hired as a consultant.”
And making this shift requires great wisdom and restraint: being respectful of your teen’s task of separating from you and finding his own identity means that you have to take a step back from much of the direct intervention in his life that was part of parenting a younger child. You deserve much credit for making this change – it is one of the difficult life tasks that parents of teens need to work on.
According to Riera, as a consultant:
- You offer advice and give input about decisions when you are asked. Often, it really isn’t advice the teens actually want, but someone to listen to them. Save your power plays for health and safety issues; you can find areas of negotiation for everything else.
- Learn not to take most of their feedback personally; it is usually more about them than you. This may be difficult at times but it will be very helpful to you in dealing with your teen and in maintaining your own self-esteem and patience.
- Focus on helping your teen to develop “decision-making muscle.” Let them learn from their own mistakes whenever possible rather than rescuing them or bailing them out or taking over so that they don’t have the chance to make mistakes and learn from them.
- Help your teen to see how increased responsibility leads to greater independence and freedom. Let them know that when they act responsibly, they will be given more freedom and privileges. And you will see how increased independence can lead to greater responsibility.
Avoid the two most common errors in parenting teens:
- treating them like children by over-managing and not giving them adequate control over their lives (often called the ‘helicopter’ parent)
- or treating them like adults by under-parenting them or abandoning them by not giving them enough guidance and limits.
You want to be somewhere in the middle between these two extremes – where you are still providing rules, discipline, guidance, and a loving connection to your teens as you give them more and more say in decisions that affect them.
This is where parenting is more of an art than a science; you will have to use your knowledge of and judgment about your child, his maturity, the situation, and his past ability to handle increased freedom.
The Involvement Gap
What do we mean by ‘abandoning’ our teens? Many parents assume, incorrectly, that teens do not want their parents in their lives at all. These parents listen too concretely to their teen’s overt behavior and words, which do in fact communicate that they don’t want their parents in their lives. But research has shown that quite the opposite is true.
Teens still want their parents involved in their lives, but in a different way. They want their parents to listen to them (when they want to talk), they still care about what their parents think (although they may not let on to the parents that that is the case), and still want to spend time with them (on their terms as far as when, what and where).
In fact, this research revealed that teens want much more from their parents than the parents think they do. But it is all in the delivery and the timing:
- being respectful,
- understanding the life tasks the teens are working on and helping them to accomplish them,
- giving up control when possible,
- being honest about and sharing values but not imposing them,
- and allowing more and more rules to be negotiable.
Research has shown that teenagers raised in democratic homes are less likely to experience major adolescent rebellion. They don’t need to because:
Parents in democratic homes:
- respect them,
- will listen to them,
- take their perspectives into consideration; and
- have gradually handed over to them the reins for managing their own lives.
- do not have a litany of arbitrary rules,
- explain the reasons for their rules, and
- give their children a say in determining some of the rules.
In these homes, the parents:
- set clear and firm boundaries even as they gradually give the teens more and more say in the decisions regarding their lives,
- set, impose and follow through with consequences so that they hold their children accountable for their actions and let them know that their rules ‘have teeth’ and
- encourage their children to be independent as they mature in judgment.
Negotiation is taught and used as a parenting tool
In these democratic homes, negotiation is a part of rule-making and power is gradually shifted to the teen as his mental abilities and judgment increase. This increase in the adolescent’s power actually increases compliance since teens are more likely to abide by rules they have had a say in determining and gives the teens many opportunities to make decisions. There are three stages in this shifting of power:
Non-negotiable Rules: “That’s the way it is.”
- Use in situations that involve safety.
- Use for life threatening, immoral and unhealthy decisions.
Negotiable Rules “Let’s work it out.”
- Largest number of issues during the teen years.
- Shows respect for teens increasing judgment and responsibility.
Transfer of all Power “It’s up to you.”
There is a gradual shift from Negotiable Rules to transferring of power based on the teen’s judgment and track record
- You can hand over all power in certain areas in which your teen seems to have good judgment and keep some control in other areas.
- This is not abandonment by a parent of adult responsibility due to the frustration of dealing with a teen. Rather, it occurs when the parent has judged that the teen is ready for full control in a particular area.
If you have rules in your home, whether they are negotiable or non-negotiable, then it is important that you set, impose and follow through with consequences when the rules are broken.
Although your teen might protest and resent the imposition of a consequence, it will hold him accountable for his behavior and let him know that he is responsible for what he does or does not do. This is one way that parents can teach their children to be responsible in life and trustworthy in their commitments. Consequences can be:
Sometimes there is a consequence that occurs naturally as the result of not following a rule; the parent does not have to do anything.
For example, a teen does not fill the car up with gas so when he wants to use it again, he can’t because there is not enough gas to go where he wants to go.
Sometimes parents need to impose a consequence, when the natural consequence is dangerous or there is no natural consequence.
An example of a related consequence would be a teen ignoring the rule that whoever uses the car last when the gas tank measures near empty has to fill it up with gas; when the father needs to use the car, he has to fill it up. The consequence is that the teen is not allowed to use the car until he has taken it to be filled up the next time gas is needed.
Sometimes there is not a related consequence. In these cases, parents can suspend all or some privileges until the teen earns them back. To get out of trouble and to earn back their privileges, the teen needs to address the following issues:
- The facts – what happened
- What he was thinking
- Who he needs to apologize to, what he needs to do to correct the situation
- What he needs to do to prevent a re-occurrence
- What help he might need to handle the problem
You can deal with this process in a quick verbal exchange, a longer discussion, or the teen can respond to the questions in writing, depending on the situation.
Through this process, the teen will take responsibility for what he did and for making amends, so that he restores his relationship with ‘injured’ parties and his own opinion of himself. This is a way to use a broken rule as a teachable moment, which is the purpose of discipline and consequences.
- listening to and respecting their opinions without judgment,
- remembering that most teens want to maintain contact with their parents but on their own terms,
- allowing them a voice in setting rules.
The trust issue
Another piece of open communication with your teen involves discussing breaches of trust when rules are broken. Trust is a critical concept that parents must teach their teens; it needs to be treated differently from other rule-breaking. (See the article called “What to do when a Teen Breaks Trust” in our Resource Library.)
Meaningful conversation with teens depends mostly on having a good relationship with them. However, there are some general tips that can help you in connecting with your teen:
- Before teens feel comfortable talking about the ‘big’ issues like sex, drugs, drinking or violence, they have to talk about the ‘small’ everyday issues. Start with the small stuff – it isn’t as threatening.
- Some of the best communication is when you are not face-to-face looking right at each other. When you are cooking, driving or both of you are involved in some easy task, your teen may be willing to talk more.
- Listen between the lines, not just to the words. Most teens don’t use many words and often communicate with body language and tone of voice.
- Acknowledge and respond to their emotions with acceptance and without judgment.
- Ask for your teens’ opinions and listen to them; it will make them more willing to listen to yours.
- Don’t interrupt your teens; let them finish their thoughts.
Dinner time is a golden opportunity for talking among family members that will draw teens out and deepen relationships; it is a time when you can feel that you and your teen are really getting to know one another.
Whenever possible, dinner time should be preserved; everyone in the family should know that that is an important time for the family to re-connect after a day of activities away from one another.
- You can set a rule that phone calls and texting are off-limits and will not be permitted during the dinner time.
- While this is not always possible due to hectic and busy schedules, it is a goal to strive towards.
- Kids will come to respect and even look forward to that time as a special opportunity to touch base, especially if there is a ground rule of respect and mutual interest.
- If you have not been doing this in your family, you can start slowly, with one dinner a week; it may take a long time to get the ritual established, but it will be worth the effort.
Some families find that it is impossible to set aside dinner times for family connections; they find other times in the day/week that work for them – breakfast, one meal during the weekend, an outing on a weekend – some time when they are away from interruptions and distractions from the outside world. This may be especially difficult for young teens, who are so dependent on their social network and peer group – but again, this is something to strive towards.
What you have just read will help you to understand why the following suggestions for coping strategies, tips and tools can make the adolescent years go more smoothly for your teen and for the whole family.
- Prepare! Increased knowledge of adolescence can help you to be “active” parents rather than “reactive”. Understand the developmental tasks and stages of adolescence.
- Be skillful! Have lots of tools for healthy communication in your tool belt. Practice the skills of problem exploration and assertiveness techniques.
- Model the behaviors you would like your child to exhibit and which reflect your values. Your actions are more powerful than your words which teens often tune out.
- Express your values through wishes, hopes or expectations.
“I really hope that you will make decisions that will keep you safe.”
“I expect that you would call me to pick you up any time you feel uncomfortable when you are out with other kids.”
“I expect that you will not use illegal drugs.”
- Teach your values, even if your teen derides and resists them at the time.
You want to be a voice in their heads; help them to have your rules in their heads and hearts. To omit expressing these hopes leaves a big hole in the defenses we want our children to have – defenses that help them protect their health and safety when you are not around to protect them. Eventually, they need to internalize these and be able to protect themselves and make these healthy decisions.
- Remember that teenagers do not purposely set out to displease you; often their behavior is an expression of their need for autonomy and their fluctuating emotions.
- Take time to be with your adolescent; find common interests.
- Encourage participation in constructive group activities: busy kids with goals get into less trouble. If your teen shows an interest in something positive, encourage it by doing what you can to enable him to do it.
- Affirm your adolescent’s capabilities, talents, strengths, skills and potential.
Respect and understand your teen
- Show respect for your adolescent’s perspectives, opinion, and struggles.
- Show acceptance and acknowledgment of your adolescent’s feelings; this is the foundation of their learning to show empathy toward others.
- Respect your adolescent’s need for privacy; remember the sense of an “imaginary audience” makes him feel on display/watched.
- Reinterpret the many “A’s” of adolescence into “anxiety!” Adolescence is a time of a roller coaster of emotions:
- Anger, arrogance, antagonism, aggression, antisocial (with family)
- absolute, abrasive, argumentative, and filled with “attitude”
Discipline and values
- Make expectations and responsibilities clear and fair.
- Set appropriate limits on behavior and impose consequences for unacceptable behaviors.
- Hold your own on your views, standards, and values; know they will be tested.
- Have appropriate trust; and provide ways to rebuild broken trust and make amends. (See the article called “What to do when a Teen Breaks Trust” in our Resource Library.)
- Preserve dignity; give a way to “save face;” this makes it easier for the teen to accept the limits on his behavior.
Help your teen with peer group issues
- Make your home teenager-friendly! Your teen will want to bring friends home and their his friends will want to come.
- Be willing to let your adolescent use you as the “bad guy” (take the blame) to his peer group about rules and limitations on behavior.
Send abundant messages of unconditional love and worth:
“I love you.”
“I like spending time with you.”
“It’s OK to have needs and feelings.”
“You are unique/special.”
“I love you just because you’re you.”
“I look forward to knowing you as an adult.”
Look for things that please you and be sure to communicate that to your teen:
“You can figure this out.”
“You can be capable and still get support.”
“You can decide for yourself what you want to do; you don’t have to follow the group.”
“You can think before you say yes or no and you can learn from your mistakes.”
“You can develop your own interests, relationships and causes.”
Take care of yourself
- Send positive messages to yourself as well!
- Find resources; be willing to seek and use educational and support opportunities, and counseling from professionals if needed.
- You can work within your community/school to create a safe environment for teens and to connect with other parents. In this way, you can meet other parents with similar values who want to create a caring community of adults who will watch over all the children they see.
- assume that the teen years will be a nightmare – much of this time is wonderful!
- take your adolescent’s behaviors personally. They need parents who can be emotionally separate.
- minimize your adolescent’s feelings, perspectives, or the intensity of their feelings and beliefs.
- be fooled by a teen’s size, intellect or other abilities; he is still “in process”.
- over-trust. Remember your adolescent is to some degree, or at some times, self-absorbed, impulsive and lacking in good judgment. (See the article called “What to do when a Teen Breaks Trust” in our Resource Library.)
- use punishments or excessive consequences. They are generally ineffective and damaging to your relationship and decrease your long-term influence over your teen.
- let go too soon; it can be experienced as abandonment.
- hold on when it’s time to let go: it can be experienced as manipulative, controlling or intrusive.
- need to always be right or to know more. Don’t hurry to correct facts.
By maintaining a strong, loving, nurturing, and supportive relationship with your teen, you will be in a good position to influence the decisions he makes. Remember that your teen still wants you in his life and that you are important to him as a source of support and encouragement.
You can be a voice of safety and reason in his head as he faces decisions on his own. Your teen still needs some limits on his behavior; if these rules and limits are worked out together and in a fair and respectful way, there may be grumbling and resistance, but compliance will be more likely.
For more information about raising a teen, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
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