By Jan Pierce
Parents of teens often acknowledge they’re navigating uncharted territory and are open to advice from those who’ve gone before. Teens are going through tremendous emotional, physical and social changes while their parents may also be facing a series of firsts: aging, end of reproductive cycles, and mid-life crisis issues. The transitions faced by both teens and their parents can make for some challenging times at home.
Teens need room to grow and change. While they’ll resist “micro-managing,” they may be prone to taking risks that require intervention for their own safety. They want to stand on their own two feet and push parents further away as they turn to peers for advice. They may become resistant to family rules that used to be accepted and they can seem sullen and uncooperative. In short, parents look at their beloved child and barely recognize the sweet little person they were just a short while ago.
On the other hand, teens are vibrant and have energy to burn. They can be very idealistic and full of plans to make the world a better place. They become passionate about causes and are very loyal to friends. They are in the process of developing into the person they’ll eventually become as an adult and may explore many creative outlets in that effort.
Teenage years are dynamic times filled with joys and struggles. Parents have the responsibility to nurture them through these times. So….what do teens really want?
Although friends, teachers and mentors will play a large role in your teen’s life, your family will always be their primary place of belonging. Home is where they’re nurtured and loved and where they return after venturing out in the world. Home should always be a welcoming place.
Building and maintaining a positive bond with teens is the goal. And though discipline will need to be part of family life, parents should make encouragement, positive words and camaraderie be the norm. Spend time together. Family meals, game nights and weekend outings may not come as often as they did before the teen years, but they should still happen. Including teen friends in family events makes it more fun for all.
Teens need to know that they always have a place of belonging in the family.
To Be Heard
Teens are likely to be either holed up in their bedroom or away with friends. So when are parents supposed to listen to them? It’s a challenge, for sure. But teens have strong feelings about the issues of the day and they have a need to share their thoughts. Some parents plan times when the family focuses on a topic of the day to process together. Such events give room for all family members to voice their thoughts.
Teens are trying out new ideas as they encounter them. They may take a stance in opposition to the ways you’ve taught them at home as an exercise in exploration. Parents who listen rather than correct or become angry will model a healthy way to encounter opposing views.
Teens also need a safe place to ask troubling questions or talk about behaviors amongst their friends that concern them. Today’s world requires that teens make important decisions about alcohol, drugs and sexual behaviors at an early age. These topics may be hard to discuss openly, but your teens need support as they face them.
Teens need to know their family will listen.
To Be Safe
Parents of teens need to be aware of the world their teens are living in daily. Where do they go and what are they doing? Who do they spend their time with and are they in safe spaces? Parents need to be willing to step in and “rescue” their kids if they find themselves in an unsafe situation. A code word decided upon by the entire family is one way to stay safe. A text of that one word means “Come get me.”
Teen years require clear boundaries set by you, their parents. Reasonable expectations mean your teen can comply and there may be room for flexibility when they behave responsibly. Consequences should be both fair and immediate. Rules are meant to keep your child safe and discipline is about teaching appropriate ways of living.
Keeping lines of communication open is a challenge in teen years, but can go a long way in keeping your teen safe. Engaging in casual talks about how life is going in general can open up deeper levels of communication when important topics need to be addressed.
Teens want to feel safe.
To Be Loved Unconditionally
While teens need privacy and want to be with their friends more than at home, they still need to feel loved by family members. Anything parents can do to demonstrate that unconditional love is a plus. Some teens welcome hugs while others prefer a less “fluffy” pat on the back or high five.
Although much of parenting is reminding kids to do their chores or homework, strive to make your interactions positive every time you can. We adults like to hear positive words and affirmations, and so do teens.
It’s important to show appreciation for your teen’s efforts and not only for their accomplishments. Trying a new sport or joining the drama club may not produce stellar performances, but will be character-building. Look for ways to praise genuine effort.
When a teen makes a mistake or breaks rules there is an opportunity to show real love. Consequences meted out fairly coupled with assurances of love and support can turn a bad situation into a learning opportunity.
Say the words. Tell your teen you love them often.
Teens need to know they’re loved.
Jan Pierce, M.Ed. is a retired teacher and author. Find Jan at www.janpierce.net.
News in Health.gov/parenting teens
Center for Parenting Education/Riding the Waves of Teen Years
Mayo Clinic/Tween and Teen Health