There’s no sugarcoating it: the years of adolescence can be a struggle, for both parent and child. Teens have shed the innocence of childhood, but haven’t yet attained the maturity that only age can provide. Parents want to make their child feel happy, safe, and loved — this is true during any stage of life — yet to grow and become one’s own person is, in many ways, a journey that everyone must undertake alone.
So how to navigate this tightrope? Here are a few tips on raising teens into happy, well-adjusted adults.
Remember who the adult is.
First and foremost, it’s important to recall that while every parent has already successfully crossed the stormy sea of adolescence, this is all happening to the teen for the first time. They have never been an adult, and therefore can’t see things from the same perspective. Being respectful and mindful of how it felt to be a teenager is key.
That’s not to say that the matter should be overstated with the teens themselves; constantly repeating the words “I’m the adult, you’re the child” will only push them away and make them feel alienated. Instead, parents should hold on to the reminder as a tool for their own use.
Listen, don’t talk.
Parenting a teen requires stellar patience and keen listening skills. Often, when a teenager approaches their parents for advice, they are really looking for is a sounding board. Above all, teens need honesty and commiseration, not pap. Answer any questions with clarity and concision, then sit back and listen to what they have to say.
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Respect the teen as an individual.
When children are very young, parents have a tendency to project themselves onto their offspring, seeing similar traits and mannerisms as proof that these people they’ve created are mirror images of their former selves. This way of thinking should be abandoned when parenting a teenager. Adolescents want to be seen as individuals, and respecting that individuality is a necessary step toward raising a child to secure adulthood. .
Set limits with clear boundaries.
This is important at any stage, and certainly doesn’t end with the onset of puberty. Make sure the child knows the rules, and understands the consequences of not following them. For example, if he or she has their driver’s license and use of a family car (or even his own), emphasize the importance of road safety and good judgment. Tell them that if they fail to make sound choices behind the wheel, it will result in the loss of their driving privileges. Be consistent, and follow through with any threatened punishment. Every child is sure to test their boundaries; it’s up to the parent to ensure that the basic rules are enforced.
Watch out for signs of depression.
According to statistics, as many as a third of 11th-graders have reported feeling depressed at one time or another. While depression can strike at random, affecting people of any age, the teen mind is particularly impressionable. Again, remember that to a young person, these feelings are new ones — they might not realize that things can — and likely will — get better. Keep an eye on her social habits, and have a talk with them if they seem to be withdrawing from activities she once enjoyed.
Give at least two positives for every negative.To a teen, it can seem as if their parents are constantly nagging them for wrongdoing or missteps. Mom and Dad may not always realize this, as parenting struggles have a tendency to cloud even the soundest of minds. For every criticism made, offer two compliments in return — not necessarily in succession, but as a running tally of debits and credits. For example, if they are consistently forgetting to perform a certain chore, take them to task for it — then later, compliment them on improving their algebra scores, adding something along the lines of “I know you can accomplish great things when you put your mind to it. Your intelligence and dedication are two of your best qualities.”
Raising a teen to healthy maturity is challenging, to say the least. But to do it well is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. While no child is an exact replica of either parent, the things they learn from Mom and Dad are the first tools they’re given to help them succeed in the real world. Use those tools wisely, and your teen will thank you one day — sooner rather than later.