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With the first meeting for Nassau Guidance's new group for adolescent boys just around the corner, we've been putting a lot of thought into just how much work the parenting of adolescents can be.
The teen years can be especially trying. Add to that the high risk for developing issues like depression and anxiety (which we reported on here,) and it's no wonder so many parents of teens struggle. Below are 7 tips for easing this time for both you and your teen.
1. Encourage Age-Appropriate Independence
The teenage years are all about figuring out who you are. This usually means experimenting with different friends, values, activities, interests, hairstyles, and types of music.
Testing out all the different options available is an essential part of developing an identity. Allow your child the freedom to figure out who they are in ways that are appropriate. As long as it's not hurting anyone, then encourage their exploration of themselves.
2. Watch Out For Warning Signs
Sure, your teen's neon green mohawk might make you uncomfortable, but it's not damaging to you or your child. However, if your teen begins to engage in destructive behavior - such as substance use, violence, unprotected sex, or misbehavior in school - then it's time to become involved.
Keep an eye open for the warning signs of a potential self-destructive problem: low self-esteem, sleep problems, trouble concentrating, and a lack of interest in activities or peers. These could indicate a more serious problem, such as depression.
3. Maintain Family Time
Between your child's school and all of your own personal obligations, it can become very difficult to find time to be together as a family. Don't let that interfere with setting aside quality time with your kids.
Studies have shown time and time again just how important family time is in preventing teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and even obesity. If family breakfasts or dinners aren't an option, try a designated time each night to hang out and watch movies or TV together.
Any time you spend together fosters open communication, which will help both you and your family in the long run.
4. Discuss - Don't Lecture
Teens are frustratingly good at tuning out the lectures of adults. The more you try to impart a lesson on your child, the less likely they are to listen to you.
Despite your good intentions, put the inner teacher in you aside and instead engage your child to talk about what their thoughts are. Use current events, scenes in movies, or something that happened at school as a lead-in into a conversation. Ask your adolescent for their thoughts or opinion - and then listen.
5. Model Adult Behavior When You're In Conflict With Your Teen
Yes, sometimes it seems like your children exist solely to drive you up the wall. And it's easy to act like an adolescent yourself - snapping, yelling, or engaging in screaming contests.
Losing your cool with your teen will only serve to render you ineffective in parenting whatever behavior or action triggered the conflict in the first place.
As hard as it might be, maintain a level head around your adolescent. You can always go vent your feelings in a more appropriate way later.
6. Respect Privacy - But Don't Tolerate Secrecy
Independence is important for children, but so is safety. A teenager has every right to private phone calls, a personal journal, and alone time without interruption.
If your child is being secretive, however - displaying avoident or evasive behavior - then it's time to get involved.
7. Honesty, Trust, And Respect Go Both Ways
We try to teach children to be respectful and honest people, and to trust their parents. This expectation needs to be reciprocal.
Respecting your child's individuality, being honest with them, and trusting them is important for developing an open, healthy relationship.
As the saying goes, you have to give a little to get a little - and the same goes for building a strong bond with your teen.
The American Academy of Family Physicians offers this excellent resource for parents of teenagers: Understanding Your Teenager's Emotional Health.