Raising a teenager is full of highs and lows. One minute it’s exciting and fun, and the next it is frustration and anger outbursts. During the teenage years your teen is entering the phase of seeking independence and identity. This is a completely normal and an essential part of growing up. This search for independence often gets mistaken for being ‘difficult’, ‘rebellious’ or ‘wanting control’. Although looking for, and needing that independence is a normal phase in teenage years, it is important to remember that parents are still the most important influence in the teen’s life. Rutter (1995) believes that most young people are not particularly difficult or troublesome but that the problem comes down to how parents respond to them.
Both parent and teen are experiencing change within the relationship during this time. Many parents wonder during these years whether or not they are ‘a good parent’. Rest assured that, although the relationship dynamics are changing, they don’t need you any less than when they were little, they just need you differently.
Our job as parents is to meet our children’s emotional needs, at each stage of their development, so that they can adequately face the challenges of the next stage. In the teen years it’s critical for parents to remain their teen’s emotional and moral compass. Too often, in our culture, we let teenagers transfer their dependency outside the family, with disastrous results. Teens often give up a great deal of themselves in pursuit of the closeness they crave, only to crash against the hard reality that; other teens aren’t developmentally able to offer them what they need. They are searching for independence not disconnection.
(1) Love is spelt TIME
One-on-one time with your teen gives you the chance to stay connected and enjoy each other’s company. It can also be a chance to share thoughts and feelings. It is important to spend time the way your teen wants to spend time. Ask them what they would like to do. It might be as simple as going for a walk together, watching a movie, or having a quick lunch together after school. It might even be that they want to play their favourite music for you.
(2) Listen & Empathize
Showing interest in your child’s life by listening and empathising will create a strong relationship between you and your teen. Just listening and using minimal encourages (nodding or saying “uh-huh” or “mmm”) can make your teen feel heard and understood. In these moments just listen and empathise, do not bombard them with advice (see next point) or an encouraging speech. Sometimes they just need to be heard and understood.
Most teens don’t keep an agenda and bring things up at a scheduled meeting. And nothing makes them clam up faster than pressing them to talk. They talk when something is up for them, particularly if you’ve proven yourself to be a good listener. If you push them to open, they feel they must defend their independence by keeping secrets from you.
(3) Keep advice to a minimum.
It doesn’t matter how good your advice is. Every time you offer it, you’re giving your teen the message that he can’t solve their problems themselves. Remember your teen is looking for independence. Be a sounding board, not a prescriber, and you’ll find your teen coming back for more. The best life skills you can grant your teenager is to allow them to make their own choices (with your sounding board input here and there). By allowing them this, they will realise how their choices have consequences and they will also feel accomplished once they make choices with a good outcome. In order for them to develop good judgment, they need lots of opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. Encourage their learning.
(4) Maintain the Balance
No matter how hard we try, all of us sometimes have less than optimal interactions with our teens. It is impossible to eliminate the fact that negative interaction will take place, but always ensure that you restore the balance. According to John Gottman, we need to maintain a 5 to 1 ratio with regards to positive and negative interactions. That means that; for everyone negative interaction or feeling between you and your teen, there must be 5 positive feelings or interactions to restore the balance. These can be as small as a smile or pat on the shoulder, just as long as you make sure it has a positive impact. If you are a parent who likes buying gifts, please remember that buying 5 gifts might not have the same effect as spending time or affection would. We often see how parents and teens move away from each after each negative interaction, and before you know it; after a couple of months, the relationship is dormant. The answer is to always work on keeping the balance to restore the relationship.
Parenting a teen is most definitely not a walk in the park but having a good relationship with your teen will make it all the better. Always remember that you need to continue to work on your parent-teen relationship. Nothing that is worthwhile comes without effort. If you keep investing time and energy in your relationship with your teen but do so respectfully aware of their needs as well, chances are that you will see some positive results over time.
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