At the risk of stating the obvious, raising teenagers isn’t an easy job. The teenage years are characterized by a considerable amount of screaming, crying, whining, and countless threats of running away from home. And it isn’t only the parents who resort to these sophisticated methods of persuasion. The teenagers generally engage in all of these attractive habits too. It is a stressful time in the life of both parents and teens. The teens are becoming independent creatures, straining against the bonds of parental control. And parents are trying to hold on to and protect their children, caught between the need to care for them and the abhorrent task of letting go. Both generations feeling misunderstood and lost resort to desperate measures to gain the others respect and acceptance.
To date, the roadmap hasn’t been created to guide you across the teenage abyss with grace and dignity. As most people know well, each child is uniquely different. What works to placate or convince one may only serve to infuriate another. As such, the way you deal with the varying circumstances which will inevitably arise should be tailored to meet the teen with whom you are dealing. And even then, there is no guarantee that you can handle the same situation in the same way each time. You may need to change your method based on your teen’s emotional condition at that particular stretch of time. Though there is no easy way through this treacherous period of human evolution, there are humane ways to survive it with your mind, even if not your heart, intact.
1. Don’t sweat the little stuff. There are some people who believe if you allow the little things to slide then your child will not respect you when it comes to the big things. But what happens when you exhaust both yourself and your teen arguing over little things with little to no consequence? After being relentlessly lectured and/or punished for small infractions, your teen will perfect the art of tuning you out. If it’s not illegal, immoral, or detrimental to their physical or mental health and wellbeing, why bother. Offer your teen options when possible. This will provide the opportunity to make some decisions for his/her self and may alleviate their feelings of being controlled. There will be enough important issues to keep you and your teens at odds to last you through the teen years. Why drive yourself crazy over issues of little to no consequence.
2. Listen to your teens. It is easy to discount their feelings and arguments. After all, teens are emotional creatures. But how can you expect them to listen to you if you won’t take the time listen to them. Listening doesn’t necessarily mean you have to agree or give in to what they want. It just allows them to present their case to you. Your teen may feel better doing what you ask if they were given the opportunity to explain to you their position. You will also have the added benefit of learning how your teen thinks and what he/she is feeling. Who knows, you may actually end up agreeing with them.
3. Practice what you preach. How will you convince your teen not to smoke, not to lie, or to be responsible if they witness you doing the opposite of what you ask of them? Children and teens really do emulate the people they have the most respect for and with whom they have the most contact. Even when you don’t think they are looking, they are watching. Your teen may not even realize it, but they are influenced by your behaviors. So if you find yourself in a situation which requires you to take an action you don’t want your teen to emulate, discuss why you felt you had to handle the situation as you did and how they might avoid having to handle a similar instance in the same manner.
If you have habits you are having trouble with giving up or just don’t want to quit but you don’t want your teens to pick, be honest with them. They are able to understand you are human and have faults and weaknesses better than they can cope with the conflicting information being picked up from the person(s) they rely on for direction. Explain your reasons for not wanting them to imitate your behavior and the consequences for doing so anyway. For example, if you smoke but don’t want your teen to smoke explain the health issues associated with smoking. Tell them you are having trouble quitting and don’t want them to suffer with the addiction.
4. Deal with problems head on. Don’t tiptoe around important issues. Be direct. Parents often feel the need to sugarcoat difficult issues to make it easier for their children and themselves. But teens usually know when you are trying to shield them from something. This may make them feel as if you cannot handle the problem or don’t have confidence in their ability to handle it and they will turn to someone else for help. Don’t underestimate them and what they are capable of understanding and coping with.
Offering teens choices will boost their self confidence and sense of autonomy. Ask your teen questions. How do they feel about the situation? How do they want to handle it? If you do not agree with them, explain why you don’t think theirs is the best course of action and provide acceptable alternatives. Whenever possible, let them choose which alternative they want to pursue. This will give them the impression that you trust and respect their judgment while still maintaining some control.
5. Stay involved. Don’t hide behind the excuse or under the misconception that you are giving your teen their space. Teens need your support and your wisdom to help them withstand the enormous pressure they receive from their peers. This is true even when they are screaming at you to stay out of their life. Though your teen probably believes he/she has mastered life and understands all of its intricacies and workings, you know better. If your teen feels as if you are remote and distant, they end up feeling alone and scared, but would never admit to it. Rather than risk rejection by those they feel the most connection with, they will succumb to the pressure.
An entirely new cause for concern and anxiety emerged with the advent and the prevalence of the internet, cell phones and texting. The internet has exposed our children to a potentially sinister world, making them even more vulnerable and accessible than ever before. Even the kids who aren’t looking for trouble find trouble looking for them on the World Wide Web. New dangers associated with cell phones and the texting of nude pictures has triggered a legislative response from our government. Without proper supervision and (dare we say it) censorship, the potential for danger to teens is great.
It is a parent’s job to ensure the safety of their children and with the rapidly emerging technological advancements the only way this can be done is with vigilance. Stay current on your teen’s activities. Know which social sites they frequent and what pictures they paste for the world to view. Explain the dangers of providing personal information either by instant message or as a post to a favorite social web page. Even the most innocuous statements can be used to locate your child and to determine their regular scheduled activities. Don’t wait until it is too late to warn them of the danger. Know their friends, the parents of their friends, and their enemies. The more you know about your teen and their life, the easier it will be to keep them out of trouble and to locate them when trouble finds them.
6. Enforce rules and discipline when warranted. Who among us doesn’t want to be the cool parent? But if you don’t lay down the law and teach your teens now that there are limits and restrictions, when do you think they will learn and by whom? Teens without limits will push the line to see how far they are able to get. If you don’t respond swiftly and with certainty, they will push until someone else does. Whether they know it or not, teens feel more secure knowing their parents love them enough to say no. A lack of discipline will have lasting effects, even into adulthood.
A teen that doesn’t have restrictions or experience consequences may find it difficult as an adult to adhere to limitations. Discipline teaches teens there are consequences for their actions. Though it is true that when you punish a teen, you punish yourself also, this is just a reality of parenthood with which you will need to contend. Your teen must feel the repercussions rather than just hear about them. Otherwise, they will believe they can act with impunity. It is important that they learn from you in their teen years as opposed to learning later in life or from governmental agencies such as the police force.
7. Help your teen set and meet goals. Not everyone is naturally ambitious and self directed. Some people need to be steered in the right direction. Certain lessons are essential to raising successful adults. Teaching your teen now how to set goals and what needs to be done to successfully attain them will provide a valuable lesson which will help them throughout the remainder of their lives. Having specific goals will also serve to keep your teen out of trouble. A teen without purpose will find more trouble than one who has goals they are actively pursuing. A goal provides something valuable which can be lost due to poor decisions and behaviors. Keep your teen focused on something positive will give them direction and limit the potential for serious problems.
8. Teach them to give back to their community. Community service shouldn’t be used solely as a punishment for troubled kids. Teach your teens the importance of giving something of themselves to the community in which they live. Volunteer at the Red Cross or a local soup kitchen. Donate gently used clothes and toys to a homeless shelter. Participate in fundraisers to benefit health research. Contribute time to Habitat for Humanity. Community service will teach your teen compassion, humility, and may even teach them to appreciate what they have.
9. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help. The teen years are fraught with emotional upheaval and significant social and peer pressure. These issues could make seasoned adults run screaming. Teens do not have the benefit of experience and perspective. Every crisis is the end of the world in the teen terms. As a result, teens lash out at themselves and those around them. Serious issues can arise; depression, drugs and alcohol, eating disorders, cutting disorders. Mental health professionals can help. Finding a counselor for your teen doesn’t mean you failed. It means you care enough to provide your child with the help needed so that they might regain stability. You are not expected to have all the answers. No one has all the answers. The important thing is to know who to turn to when you need answers.