Three Tips for Parenting Teenagers

I’m at the end of my rope with my teenager’s mood, behavior, attitude, and choices. Every day we fight about something new, from clothes to curfews to chores. Conversations are either non-existent {“how was school today?” “fine.”} or explosive {“you can’t go to the movies until you study for your chemistry test.” “you’re the worst! I can never do anything! I hate you!”}. HELP!

Raising teenagers is hard! Many parents feel frustrated by the lack of communication with their adolescent, the impact of social media on their teenager’s life, and a host of other issues that can arise. However, there are ways to make it through the “dreaded teenager phase” that all families face with more joy and connection.

In my work as a family therapist and adolescent mental health specialist, I have developed several recommendations for parents that can be incredibly beneficial in maintaining and growing a positive relationship with your teenager. Additionally, since these behaviors are ones that you may have wanted from your parents when you yourself was a teenager, it will be healing for you, too, to be intentional in the leadership and guidance of your adolescent now.

Validate your teenager’s feelings, no matter what. (Yes, no matter what! Remember, feelings are different than behavior. You can have empathy for your teenager’s feelings without endorsing how they’ve chosen to behave because of their feelings.)

It can be really difficult to empathize with teenagers as adults. This can be difficult for a multitude of reasons; one of those being that teenagers are notorious for giving parents the silent treatment. Parents can still find ways to validate their teenager’s feelings by listening attentively when opportunities are available. Ensure that you are engaged and paying attention when your teenager does seek you out; this can be accomplished by maintaining eye contact, limiting distractions from others or external stimuli, and listening actively. In my work with teenagers, a frequent complaint is that their parents do not understand their feelings or perspective. Therefore, teenagers are increasingly hesitant to be open with parents. However, parents can combat this cycle by quieting their “I’ve been there before and I know what I am talking about” voice and instead encouraging their “I want to hear my child’s experience and understand their perspective” attitude. Much like how active listening between spouses encourages more open and honest dialogue, families can adopt this strategy to better connect with their increasingly independent and maturing teenager.

Choose your battles wisely.

As if you did not already know, teenagers sometimes do things just for simple shock value. Researchers and writers have proposed that teenagers enjoy the element of surprise, especially surprising the adults in their lives. With this idea in mind, remember to choose your battles wisely in handing your teenager’s behaviors. It is important to scale your reactions to match the original trigger presented. Parents sometimes find themselves locked in a cycle of frustration, combativeness, and exhaustion when reprimanding their teenager. In order to stop this cycle, parents can prioritize behaviors they want to discourage and encourage within their teenager. In my work as a family therapist, I challenge parents to have honest conversations with themselves about their expectations for their teenage child — where do you really want to draw the line, and what can you decide to let slide? Additionally, I encourage parents to ask themselves why they do not want their child doing certain behaviors and being clear about those reasons before enforcing certain rules.

Allow yourself to learn from your teenager.

Parents become entrenched in arguments and discussions with their teenager that can sometimes end (or begin) with bold statements such as “you don’t know me!” or “you never understood me!” While teenagers are almost entirely incorrect in those accusations, it is important for parents to realize that the teenage developmental stage does represent a time of rebirth for youth. During this time, teenagers begin to exert their independence more, develop their own ideas and perspective, and see the world through a lens that is not filtered by their parents. This rebirth is accompanied by changes that happen within the teenager that may be subtle to parents but earth-shattering for the youth themselves. Therefore, allow yourself to approach your teen with an attitude of curiosity. Take the time to relearn your adolescent as a person, and adapt your parenting to match the adolescent your child is becoming. Getting to know your teenager better increases respect, stretches your patience, and deepens your ability to anticipate the highs and lows.

This post was written by Michelle Collins, an experienced parenting coach and adolescent mental health specialist at Emily Cook Therapy in Bethesda, MD.

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