Just a quick think back to your own teenage years will remind you of what a truly turbulent time adolescence can be. As a parent, you have a whole new set of skills to learn to make sure you’re being as available to your growing child as possible. Here are some tips to keeping your sanity with a teenager in the house.
Don’t take it personally
Part of what teenagers need to figure out is how to construct their own identity - and to do this, they need to deliberately break away from their parents. Try not to be hurt when your teenager keeps you at arm’s length. They are doing the important work of becoming adults. It might not feel appreciated yet, but your support during this time will make a huge difference.
Accept that they need to explore
It may just look like ridiculous fashion to you, but your teen will be trying on new identities and ways of being. They’re exquisitely sensitive to rejection at this time and may seem fickle, moody and intense. Just go with it and try not to draw any awkward attention to this experimental phase.
Remember how painful and confusing being a teenager was? Remember how all-consuming a new crush could be, or how deathly important it was for you to be accepted by the right crowd at school? A little empathy will go a long way in dealing with your teenager’s sometimes exasperating behavior.
Start the dialogue early
Discussions about sex, peer pressure or drug use should begin long before puberty starts. Important conversations should happen throughout a child’s life, and not as a single “facts of life” talk sprung on a mortified teen. Try to establish yourself as a reliable and relaxed source of open discussion.
Inform, don’t moralize
It is perhaps more of a challenge to parents to come to terms with the fact that as their teens work out their own moral codes and life philosophies, they may well differ strongly from yours. Try not to preach, but give neutral, accurate information and trust your child to decide for themselves. Teenagers usually don’t respond well to your efforts to try and control them, but they will open up if you seek first to understand their perspective before trying to change it.
Respect their privacy
Being dismissive of your teen’s budding autonomy can be disastrous for their sense of trust in you and the world in general. No matter what, don’t snoop through their things or spy on them. When you demonstrate trust in your teen, that trust can be reciprocated, and they learn in turn that they can be trustworthy.
From the day they’re born, parents worry about their children. It’s inevitable. Just because they’re becoming young adults, however, it doesn’t mean you can’t have reasonable expectations of them. Watch closely for signs of drug use, eating disorders, bullying or inappropriate sexual activity. Monitor what information your teen has access to, including online, and establish fair, non-negotiable limits early on.
The teen years are a time of new development, awkward challenges and an expanded sense of personal identity - for parents and teenagers alike. Perhaps the most important lesson is to learn when to let go. Sometimes, you and your teen will not see eye to eye, and that’s OK. Be a constant and compassionate source of love for your teen and you will both emerge with a stronger and deepened sense of appreciation for the other.