Posted on December 24, 2019
When they were tiny babies, the teenage years felt impossibly far away. It seemed like yesterday when you were taking advice for new parents. Yet, now you find the dreaded hormonal teen years at your doorstep. If boarding school or running away in the cover of the night are not options, you need to be preparing for adolescence. Remember your teenage years? Yeah, we thought so.
If your tween is about to bloom into a full-on teen any day, it’s time you started thinking about how to parent a teenager.
Even if all they’re doing is showing you negativity, positive behaviors are a must for teens. They will do everything in their power to show you they do NOT care, whereas you need to go above and beyond to show them how much you DO care. This doesn’t mean to treat them like a child. Show them love by really listening when they speak, and respecting their feelings. It’s also important to remember that you can’t assume your teen knows how much you love them. Verbal affirmation, acts of service, and physical attention are all good ways to communicate your love and support.
If they’ll still be seen with you in public, make plans regularly. And, if your teen doesn't seem interested in bonding, just keep trying. On particularly contentious days, consider each doing your own thing in the same space.
Of course, unconditional love doesn't mean unconditional approval. It’s possible to discipline your teen without compromising compassion and care.
That said, it’s important to remember that the goal of discipline is to teach, not control. Make sure you set clear and realistic expectations for your teen to follow. Maintain consistent communication around those boundaries and provide positive reinforcement when possible. However, when their behavior isn’t in line with the agreed-upon rules, you need to take action. It is a gift to be able to teach the hard, but the important lesson of consequences.
Avoid ultimatums, and keep rules short and to the point. Make consequences immediate and clearly tied to the action. Even when things get heated, explain your decisions. It’s easier for anyone to comply with a rule when he or she understands its purpose. It also lessens the desire to rebel. This is especially true if you’re being reasonable and setting rules to which your teen can actually abide.
Lastly, be flexible. Every day is going to be different. As your kid demonstrates more responsibility, offer more rope. If your teen shows poor judgment, impose more restrictions.
This can feel difficult for parents. You know, my house, my rules, etc. But to help your teen become a young adult, you'll need to give your kid some space. In other words, your teenager's room, texts, e-mails, and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn't expect your teen to share their world with you the way they used to as children. Of course, for safety reasons, you know where they are, when they’re coming home, and hopefully who they spend time with, but you really don’t need (and probably don’t want) every detail.
Start from a place of trust. Tell your teen that you trust them, but if the trust gets broken, he or she will enjoy fewer freedoms until it's rebuilt. However, if you notice warning signs of trouble, that’s the only time you should really intervene.
The best way to avoid having to snoop in your kid’s bedroom is to stay involved. The teen years are a time of experimentation. Don't avoid hard talks –– that won’t prevent risky behaviors. Discussing tough topics openly with your children before they're exposed to them actually makes it more likely that they'll act responsibly when the time comes.
If you feel like you're not the best person for your teen to discuss difficult topics, or maybe you notice them in distress, don’t hesitate to provide them with a good mental health care provider they can trust. Therapy for teens can be critical in setting them up for success and confidence as they transition into adulthood. Also, as you’re preparing for adolescence yourself, seeking counseling at a nearby location can be a great solution to coping with this new phase of parenting, and helping to evolve the relationship with your child.
The teen years are a difficult time for both you and your child, but just like those 2 am feedings, it’s just a season that too will pass.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.