Written by Marlowe Gelmon, M.Sc., Behavioral Neuroscience Behavioral Therapist; Photo: Fotolia.com
As your children learn new life rules and lessons during the teen years, you need to adapt your parenting techniques.
Although teens generally begin spending more time away from their families, they still need you to be active and aware. Parenting with love and approval and taking a positive approach, even in moments of frustration, are effective ways to guide your children during the teen years. This guide discusses strategies for positive parenting, including promoting self-esteem, communicating, resolving conflict, and teaching responsibility.
One of the most profound changes in parent-teen relationships is the amount of time you and your children spend together. Your teen is home much less often than in earlier years and, when they are home, they are usually in their rooms. Not only does your teen enjoy privacy, it also provides them with an uninterrupted opportunity to listen to music, chat with friends, do homework, etc. Your teen also goes through periods in which they don’t want to be seen with you as they try to assert their independence. This peaks around age 14 but it typically fades quickly. While these natural tendencies of teenagers make it more of a challenge for you to interact with your teen, it’s important that you make time to do so. And, since your time together is limited, make that time pleasurable.
The following tips may help you and your teen grow closer:
- Let your teen see your fun side.
- Avoid lecturing. Teens generally don’t like to hear how things used to be or how you think they should be - and may tune you out.
- Don’t act as if you have all the answers. Ask your child for their ideas on how to handle situations. This shows you value your teen’s thoughts and opinions.
- Keep any judgemental thoughts to yourself. Stick with the subject at hand.
- Develop common interests.
- Allow your teen space.
- Compliment your child often, and make sure the praise is genuine.
- Respect your child’s concerns. Don’t belittle your child by dismissing their worries when they are upset.
- Never criticize your child. If you disapprove of a behavior, make it clear that you dislike the behavior - not your child.
- Encourage your child to explore a variety of activities and find areas of expertise. Succeeding at one or more activities will help your teen gain confidence.
- Avoid teasing your child. Many teens are so sensitive that even good-nature teasing can hurt their feelings.
- Pay close attention but respect your teen’s privacy.
- Allow your child to talk without interruption until they get to the point.
- Show respect for your child’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.
- Build structure. Consider making one dinner a week mandatory for all family members, allowing no phone interruptions or visits from friends.
- Seize the moment. Catch up with your child whenever you have an opportunity, though this may require some spontaneity. Being in a car together is almost always a good chance to talk; ordering pizza to share when you have a quiet night at home is another good way to catch up on things.
- Let the punishment fit the crime. The most effective lessons for teaching teens are consequences, and the seriousness of the consequence should match the crime. A 16-year-old who stays out two hours after curfew needs a strong enough penalty to underscore the seriousness of the offence, perhaps being grounded for two weeks. Not completing an assignment - and getting a poor grade as a result - is an example of a natural consequence that for some teens may be the best teacher.
- Follow through. Believe in the rules you set, and once you put them in place, be consistent and stick with them. You can probably assume that your child will come up with many reasons why ‘this one time’ you should bend the rule; occasionally, there may be a valid reason, but consistency is usually the best policy.
- Remember the power of praise. Remember to compliment your teen for handling life well.
- Don’t overreact. Overreacting to actions and attitudes that don’t hurt anyone, including your child, shifts the focus away from what really matters.
- Be clear about the rules. By making the house rules well known to all, your teen can’t plead ignorance for breaking one.
- Determine the underlying cause of the conflict. Think beyond the immediate argument to determine what is really at the base of the conflict. For instance, you might insist that your 15-year-old be home during the summer evenings by 8 o’clock - a time when their friends are still outside enjoying the twilight. The real conflict, in this case, may be that your child is mature enough for greater independence, but you may be establishing rules that are more appropriate for an 11- or 12-year-old. If you find yourself frequently arguing about similar issues, you may need to re-evaluate your child’s maturity, and consider whether the rules you’ve set are appropriate.
- Pay attention to your child. If the conflicts with your teen are more random in nature - spontaneous outbursts that have no central theme - it may indicate that your child is simply seeking your attention. This can be confusing because teens, in their desire to be perceived as independent, often pretend they don’t need you when, in fact, they need you as much as ever.
- Don’t attempt to resolve a fight when tempers are flaring. During an argument, often no one can agree on a reasonable solution. Instead of shouting, both of you should walk away and calm down. Agree to come back to the problem later, when you both have had time to quiet down and give meaningful thought to the issue.