Growing up is always hard for teenagers, but it’s not a cakewalk for their parents either!
Parents are often left baffled by their teen’s secretive behavior and slammed doors. It might feel like your open and friendly child has suddenly transformed into a sullen stranger in your kitchen who communicates entirely in grunts and monosyllables.
In this article, we share three key strategies for parents to navigate the trials of adolescence and really connect with their children.
Listen to Your Child
With puberty, peer influences and the increasing pressures of high school, teenage years are already tumultuous and difficult. As children grow older, it’s completely normal for them to turn inwards and focus on developing their sense of self and identity.
But this doesn’t mean that your teen doesn’t need you anymore.
Everyone likes being listened to and understood, and teenagers are no exception. Now more than ever, they need to know you’re still interested in their lives.
Don’t force conversations. Instead, create spaces where they feel comfortable sharing tidbits about their new discoveries and interests. Find casual opportunities for one-on-one time, like when you’re driving them to school. Prioritize showing up for their games and performances. Offer to host sleepover parties so you can meet their friends.
And when they talk to you, really listen.
Pay attention to their grievances and emotions. Don’t hand down rules and punishments like a dictator. Instead, invite them to participate in making the decisions that will hugely impact their lives.
By involving them in the process of creating boundaries and family rules, you can protect your teens while allowing them to exercise their newfound autonomy.
It’s All Built on Trust
Mutual trust is the foundation of good relationships between parents and their children.
Brick by brick, start building this trust early on. Just like you teach your children to look both ways before crossing the street, educate them about high-risk behaviors in an age-appropriate way.
Give them the vocabulary to understand and avoid sexual abuse. Explain the dangers and consequences of substance use, crime and risky sexual activity. Set clear boundaries for internet use and monitor as you go.
At the same time, give them the freedom to make their mistakes and demonstrate their responsibility. Examples include letting them cook dinner for the whole family or babysitting their little sisters.
Your teen shouldn’t keep secrets because they’re afraid of your reaction or disappointment. Tell them you won’t judge if your son brings home a failing grade or if your daughter brings home a girlfriend. They should know they can always rely on you to deal with bullies or pick them up when they’re drunk at 2 am.
Tell them that mistakes happen, but you’re always going to be there to help them pick up the pieces.
Be Observant and Offer Support
Your teen is growing up fast, but they might not yet have the maturity to make the best decisions. It’s your job as the parent to watch out for red flags and intervene before they turn into a full-blown crisis.
Keep an eye out for strange or sudden changes in your teen’s appearance, appetite or patterns of behavior. Dramatic weight loss, refusing to eat particular foods, social isolation, skipping school and excessive computer use are all possible signs of a deeper problem.
It’s important to stay calm. Verify facts when possible, but trust your gut and take action when you have a strong hunch that something is wrong.
If your teen is becoming more socially withdrawn and lethargic, it’s possible that they’re struggling with depression or anxiety. These mental health struggles can be especially overwhelming in the teenage years. Treatment includes medication and therapy.
If you recognize signs of underage drinking or substance use, remember to take a deep breath before confronting your teen. A heated argument will not help now. The focus should be on setting clear boundaries and treating addiction before it worsens.
Looking for a “rehab near me” might be the hardest thing you do in your life, but it’s one step closer to a better future for you and your teen.
Parenting through the teenage years is a rollercoaster from start to finish. Perhaps there’s nothing more difficult than walking the fine line between respecting your teen’s privacy and keeping them safe.
It might take time to hit the right balance that works for your family. And if you find yourself fumbling, don’t forget about your co-passengers.
You and your teen are in this together!