Parent’s Guide to Raising Adolescents

Parent’s Guide to Raising Adolescents

“Leave me alone!” “You don’t understand!” “I don’t want to talk to you!” Chances are, if you have heard these phrases recently, you are raising an adolescent. Adolescence (typically ages 10-19) is defined as the transitional period between childhood and adulthood. This period is full of challenges for both children and their parents. Adolescents are navigating peer issues, rapidly changing bodies, and testing limits with their parents as they strive to become more independent. As a parent, how can you foster a healthy relationship when your adolescent wants nothing to do with you? How can you allow your child to be more independent while ensuring their safety?

The Adolescent Brain

Adolescent brains are wired to challenge authority, take risks, and experiment with new things. During adolescence, children’s brains shift from concrete thinking to more abstract thinking as they begin to understand the world outside of their family unit. They are starting to think about their own values and morals, develop an identity, and figure out how they want to show up in the world. While it may appear to parents that teens are being defiant or oppositional, they are learning how to forge their own path. They begin to make their own decisions which is an important step towards becoming an adult.

Keep it in Perspective

When raising adolescents, parents must reflect on their own adolescent life. What were your needs during this period? How was your relationship with your own parents? It is a teenager’s job to learn how to separate from their parents and learn how to live as individuals. This push-and-pull process creates stress and tension in the home, particularly around rules and expectations. It’s your adolescent’s job to push boundaries, and it’s your job as a parent to keep them safe. Getting in touch with who you were as a teenager can help you lead with empathy and understanding as you guide your child through adolescence. This will help you normalize some of your adolescents’ behaviors as they arise.

Establish Clear Values and Limits with Your Adolescent

Establishing family values can help guide many parenting decisions and allow for clear expectations with room for flexibility. For example, if honesty is an identified family value, it may mean that children are not punished for telling the truth. As that child gets older, they are more likely to be honest after making a poor decision because that value is in place. Studies show that adolescents respond well to parenting styles that are warm, firm, and supportive with mutual respect for one another. Children need to know and understand the rules and limits that they are expected to follow and parents should be consistent. Having frequent family meetings and check-ins to discuss rules allows for open communication. Some families even create contracts around things like social media usage for their teenagers which serve as a clear guide of expectations and consequences for misuse. As your child grows, expectations and privileges should evolve to be age-appropriate.

Maintain Open Communication

During adolescence, children grapple with a wide range of rapidly changing feelings, undergo significant hormonal changes, and navigate complex peer dynamics. Children and teens during this period are prone to making impulsive decisions and experimenting with new things to take risks. Parents must maintain open communication during this period and reassure them that they can come to you with questions about anything. The more that a teen thinks that their parents will disapprove of their behaviors, the more likely they are to conceal them or seek out another (possibly incorrect) source of information.

By encouraging them to be curious, your children are more likely to come to you with questions about the problems they are facing. You can start this conversation early by asking things like “I wonder if you are thinking about having sex” or “I wonder if you are feeling any pressure to drink with your friends.” The most important thing you can do when your child comes to discuss something is to validate their feelings. This does not necessarily mean that you approve of their behavior or the actions that they took in a given scenario, it simply means that you can empathize with how they are feeling.

Active Listening

It may seem counter-intuitive, but one of the best strategies for getting adolescents to talk is by talking less. Instead of asking a barrage of questions when they get home from school, allow them to drive the conversation and discuss the topics that seem important to them. When they start talking, simply saying things like “tell me more about that,” or using reflection skills can be a powerful tool to keep the conversation going. If you are asking questions, try using specific, open-ended questions that are outside of the normal “How was school today?”. For example, “What was something that made you smile today?” or “What was the most frustrating part of your day?” to guide the conversation in an interesting direction. As Maya Angelou says, “’people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. It is crucial for your adolescent to feel supported and loved.

Modeling Behaviors

Most of the time, it may not feel like your adolescent is listening to you, but they certainly are watching. Adolescents do not typically learn through lectures, arguments, or even well-intentioned discussions. They learn by observing peers, siblings, parents, and by their own trial and error. As a parent, you are your child’s first role model. If you want your adolescent to spend more time reading and less time on screens, you must engage in those behaviors yourself and ensure that they see you doing it.

If you want them to feel more confident and be kinder to themselves, they must see you practice self-care and celebrate your successes. One often overlooked opportunity to model behaviors is during fights. When you find yourself entangled in an argument with your adolescent, you can model healthy behavior by taking a break to cool off instead of continuing to let the situation escalate.

Be Curious

You may find yourself scratching your head and wondering why your adolescent made a choice or engaged in a particularly puzzling behavior. Instead of assuming the reason for a misbehavior, be curious and try to understand their motivations. Try asking questions like, “What was going through your mind right before you did that?” or “Help me understand what happened here”. Having a conflict with your adolescent is normal and it does not necessarily mean there is a bigger issue. This is true as long as your relationship is built on values like honesty and respect.

Conflicts should be approached from a place of curiosity instead of judgment and shame. Children and parents both need to express their emotions including anger. However, both parties still need to feel connection and affection for one another whether you are arguing or not. You can build a strong foundation for your relationship with your adolescent by being curious about their interests, hobbies, and friends. By showing genuine interest, you are giving them permission to express themselves and explore new things healthily and safely.

Seek Support in Raising Adolescents

Navigating adolescence as a parent can be full of challenges, questions, and confusion for both you and your child. By providing sturdy leadership for your child, you can foster a healthy relationship rooted in values, mutual understanding, and respect. It is important to remember that parenting is a process and your relationship with your adolescent will evolve as they age. Remember that your adolescent will make mistakes; this is a normal, natural part of growing up. As a parent, you do have the power to normalize, empathize, and model the behaviors you hope to instill. If you are looking to improve your communication skills and enhance your relationship with your adolescent, the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy is ready to help you seek out guidance from a licensed mental health professional. Our practice includes Parent-Child Interaction Therapy to improve familial connections. Therapy is a space to explore issues to