For The People

Parenting During the Teen Years

Looking for a roadmap to find your way through these years? Here are some tips:

Educate Yourself

Read books about teenagers. Think back on your own teen years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing early — or late. Expect some mood changes in your typically sunny child, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she matures as an individual. Parents who know what’s coming can cope with it better. And the more you know, the better you can prepare.

Talk to Kids Early and Often

Starting to talk about menstruation or wet dreams after they’ve already begun is starting too late. Answer the early questions kids have about bodies, such as the differences between boys and girls and where babies come from. But don’t overload them with information — just answer their questions. If you don’t know the answers, get them from someone who does, like a trusted friend or your pediatrician.

You know your kids. You can hear when your child’s starting to tell jokes about sex or when attention to personal appearance is increasing. This is a good time to jump in with your own questions such as:

Are you noticing any changes in your body?
Are you having any strange feelings?
Are you sad sometimes and don’t know why?

A yearly physical exam is a great time to talk about this. A doctor can tell your preadolescent and you what to expect in the next few years about physical and emotional changes. This will especially assist if your adolescents are afraid of the expected changes.

An exam can be a jumping-off point for a good parent/child discussion. The later you wait to have these talks, the more likely your child will be to form misconceptions or become embarrassed to communicate. The earlier you begin these conversation, the better your chances of keeping them open through the teen years. Give your child books on puberty written for kids going through it. Share memories of your own adolescence. There’s nothing like knowing that mom or dad went through it, too, to put kids more at ease.

Put Yourself in Your Child’s Place

Practice empathy by helping your child understand that it’s normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it’s OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.

Pick Your Battles

If teenagers want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents and it’s a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; save your objections for things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol, or permanent changes to their appearance.
Ask why your teen wants to dress or look a certain way and try to understand how your teen is feeling. You also might want to discuss how others might perceive them if they look different — help your teen understand how he or she might be viewed.

Set Expectations

Teens might act unhappy about the expectations their parents place on them. Still, they usually understand and need to know that their parents care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and sticking to the house rules. If parents have appropriate expectations, teens will likely try to meet them. Without reasonable expectations, your teen may feel you don’t care about him or her.

Inform Your Teen and Stay Informed Yourself

The teen years often are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviors. Don’t avoid the subjects of sex and drugs, alcohol, or tobacco use. Discussing tough topics openly with kids before they’re exposed to them actually makes it more likely that they’ll act responsibly when the time comes. Share your family values with your teen and talk about what you believe is right and wrong, and why.
Know your child’s friends and know their parents. Regular communication between parents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all teens in a peer group. Parents can help each other keep track of the kids’ activities without making the kids feel that they’re being watched.

Respect Kids’ Privacy

Some parents, understandably, have a very hard time with this one. They may feel that anything their kids do is their business. But to help your teen become a young adult, you’ll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your child’s privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it’s a good idea to back off.

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 all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where teens are going, when they’ll be returning, what they’re doing, and with whom, but you don’t need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn’t expect to be invited along!

Start with trust. Tell your teen that you trust him or her, but if the trust gets broken, he or she will enjoy fewer freedoms until it’s rebuilt.

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