In some ways, teens really have it rough (which also means that parenting teenagers is not easy, either). From a biological standpoint, teens are undergoing many changes. Their brains are developing the ability to engage in higher-level problem solving as well as a feature that allows them to “put on the brakes” in situations where they would have previously just acted on impulse. Some of these biological changes create an inherent inner struggle as they now have to “decide” who they are going to be in the world. The whole “saying no” thing actually makes sense to them now and they have to decide to make their own decisions or follow the crowd in different situations. Teens are also experiencing hormone changes & puberty. That’s a tough mix!
In other ways, teens have it made. They still live at home, they don’t have any/many bills to pay, they get to eat for free, etc. While all these things are great, the hard piece about this is that one of the developmental tasks of being a teenager is to separate from parents. So… they want and NEED to make their own choices, have their own opinions, etc. With all of this in mind, here are a few ways to stay connected to your teen during these years of change:
1. Openly communicate with your teen. Your teen is no longer a child and they need you to talk with them in an appropriate way. They are young adults and need to be treated this way (most of the time). Talk about current events, what they have going on in their life, some of what you have going on, stressors they are experiencing, etc. Talk, talk, talk. If they put up walls… well… that’s a different blog. I promise I will also write about that. This blog might be helpful: Communicating with your Teen: Do’s and Don’ts.
2. Let them have an opinion. Again, your teen is no longer a child. It is your job as a parent to teach them how to be an adult. When your teen no longer lives in your home (that’s just a few years away!) they are going to need to know how to make decisions, etc. The best place to learn how to do this is at home. Their opinion will often be different than yours. That is okay! You taught your kiddo to think for themselves! Though this can create controversy at home, remember that the goal is not to have a “mini-me.” The goal is to have raised an individual you can be proud of.
3. Listen to them. Let them tell you things without giving them advice. They will learn from their mistakes, and sometimes you have to let them learn the hard way. Also, do not tell other people things that your teen told you privately. This is a deal breaker for teens.
4. Have fun with them. Let them pick activities sometimes. Yes, you might end up rock climbing this weekend, but so be it! Allowing them to pick activities shows them that you value their opinion. Warning on this one: If your teen has no money and they choose an expensive activity, I encourage you to help them earn some of the money around the house, etc.
5. Include their friends. Not all the time! Sometimes this is good, though. It is developmentally appropriate for teens to prioritize their friends. This is nothing that you did wrong. Include their friends in some activities and this will open up more lines of communication.
6. Be clear about expectations. Do not assume your teen knows what is expected of them. This is a very common mistake that I see A LOT. Be clear and have expectations written down. This will eliminate many arguments. Read here for my thoughts about teen expectations.
7. Help them reach their goals. Key word: THEIR goals. This one can be hard for parents. Let your teen be who they want to be in the world. They will be much happier as themselves than if they live their life to please you. Help them clarify their goals and help them attain their goals (as much as you can, anyway). You get to worry about their future. That’s part of what you signed up for as a parent. You can be honest with them about your thoughts about some of their goals, but please do not use guilt or shame. Again, I will blog about that in the future. For now, support them in their goals and this will show them that you love them and trust them as young adults.
8. The good ole’ family dinner. Eat together sometimes! Research consistently shows that families are happier when they eat some meals together (no phones at the table, please!).
9. You are not their friend. They still need you to be their parent. After they graduate, move out, go to college, etc., then you can have a more adult relationship with them. For now, don’t be the TOO cool parent. You can be cool, but know your limits ahead of time. Teens still need parents, rules, consequences, etc. It is your job to enforce the rules and consequences.
Hopefully these pointers help! There is no reason that you should not stay connected with your teenager. Are there any that you as parents feel that I missed?