Parenting teens can be tough.
The rapid changes in adolescents’ brain development can pose more challenges for parents.
During puberty, adolescents are motivated to expand their autonomy and experiment with making decisions on their own. Reorienting socially towards peers and romantic partners facilitates this developmental shift.
It may seem as if they are new problems, but many of them are rooted in existing issues. This transition simply creates more opportunities for conflicts, exposing problems that already existed but were not as prominent before.
What makes things difficult is the fact that they have been brewing for almost a decade. So there are usually no quick fixes.
While this poses challenges for families, there are ways to help parents of teens through this period.
These tips can help parents navigate adolescence.
1. Stop calling your child’s issues “teenage problems”
Teenage problems only appear during those years, don’t they? Why can’t we use that term?
The issue is not the term, but how parents use it.
It’s easy to blame everything on the teenage phase or the malleable adolescent brains.
But most likely, teenage problems began long before the teenage years. They probably went unnoticed until your child made them known during their teenage years, when they tend to have less self-control1 and show more risky behavior2.
If we generalize all the problems into one thing, we are ignoring the underlying causes.
Unless we acknowledge a real problem exists, and not just a result of adolescence, we cannot solve the issue.
2. Relationship, relationship, relationship
Children of any age benefit from having a close relationship with their parents, but this is especially important during adolescence.
During the teen years, the degree of family connectedness is significantly and inversely associated with teen’s emotional distress, suicidality, drinking, substance use, and early sexual behaviors3.
Parent-child relationships should be every parent’s top priority.
However, parent-adolescent conflicts are a common occurrence for some families. These conflicts tend to perpetuate themselves because negativity begets more negativity.
From one year to the next, teenagers’ negative feelings for their parents predict an increase in parents’ negative feelings towards them, and vice versa4.
And family discord during the adolescent years predicts family conflict between parents and children during young adulthood5.
The importance of relationships and how fragile they are during the teen years makes it imperative that parents address this issue before anything else.
Don’t put your relationship with your teenager on the back burner.
Your relationship with your child is more precious than their grades.
Your relationship with your child is more invaluable than chores.
That doesn’t mean you let your teen do whatever they want. It means you adopt a warm, responsive parenting style, become an authoritative parent, and use disciplinary measures that don’t damage your relationship.
In addition, have meals together every day. Make this a quality time to connect, check in with each other, and have family conversations.
3. Support autonomy
Autonomous functioning is a crucial developmental process for adolescents. It is the ability to make choices and act on them freely6.
Children who receive autonomy support from their parents tend to have better academic performance, social functioning, motivation, mental health7, competence, engagement, and positive attitudes toward school.
Autonomy supportive parents are characterized by acknowledging children’s viewpoints, encouraging them to explore, allowing them to make decisions, and placing minimal control on them8. They are nurturing, flexible, and keep lines of communication open.
In adolescence, relationships undergo a transformation that prepares them for less hierarchical and more autonomous interactions as adults9.
Instead of telling their teens to study, autonomy supportive parents explain to them why engaging in an activity like education is important to help them develop their intrinsic motivation.
4. Be a coach, not a manager
Reducing dependence on parents is one of the developmental goals during the teenage years. Parents are no longer in charge of teenagers’ lives. Instead of managing them, become their coaches.
Become their emotion coaches to help them develop strong emotional regulation.
Give advice, comfort, and encouragement on their life decisions.
Many people refer to parents’ roles during this period as consultants. But parental involvement goes far beyond consulting.
In addition to guidance and advice, parents also support their teens emotionally and relationally as well. They provide a secure base for children to explore the world from and a safe haven for them to return to when they need comfort.
5. Discipline using induction and critical thinking
Let them practice their critical thinking skills to become a responsible teen.
When it is safe to do so, let your child make decisions and experience the natural consequences, good or bad.
To become a responsible teen, your child needs opportunities to practice their critical thinking and decision making skills. The decisions they make may not always be good ones. But making mistakes along the way, with your coaching, is part of the learning process.
6. Monitor peer influence
Watch your child’s social circle closely, but not intrusively.
One important aspect of adolescence is developing the ability to form strong bonds and friendships. Being exposed to significant levels of problematic behavior within their peer groups is unavoidable.
The behavioral susceptibility to peer influence is a cause of concerns for parents even among relatively normal adolescent peer groups10.
There is a strong correlation between parental monitoring and preventing deviant peer influence such as substance use and juvenile delinquency11.
Monitoring adolescents’ activities while providing autonomy support depends largely on their voluntary disclosure. So, monitoring is embedded in the parent-child relationship, which reinforces the importance of nurturing a close relationship with your teen12.
7. Exercise, adequate sleep, and mental health care
Adolescence is a critical time for emotional, social, and mental development. As the brain develops, it establishes neural pathways and behavioral patterns that will last into adulthood.
During this time, the brain is more malleable than it will ever be again, presenting remarkable abilities of adaptation13.
But this is also a peak time when many mental illnesses begin to develop.
An increase in stress-related psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression in teens is associated with this period14.
Other common mental health issues found in teenagers include unhealthy weight control, drug abuse, suicide attempts, body dissatisfaction, and low self-esteem.
Approximately 20% of teenagers suffer from a mental illness that will be carried into the adult years15.
Exercising regularly, meditating and getting the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep are great ways to promote mental wellbeing16.
If you notice or suspect your teenager is struggling with psychological issues, seek professional help as soon as possible.
8. Give unconditional love
Teenagers need a secure attachment and a strong bond with their parents just as much as younger children do.
Knowing that they can count on you and you will always be there help their development and outcomes.
The development of a secure attachment is associated with fewer mental health problems, improved social skills, and enhanced coping strategies17.
9. Be patient (and mood swings are not personal)
To help your child develop, your understanding is paramount as your child may have unpredictable mood swings than usual. It is not personal.
Many of the problems you face have probably been developing over a long period of time. They are unlikely to disappear overnight.
But things will eventually fall into place, as long as you keep your relationship as your priority and work on it.
Take a deep breath when you are frustrated. Think about how you would choose 20 years from now. Will homework still bother you then or will your relationship (or lack thereof)?
Also See: Parenting Teenagers
Need Help Motivating Kids?
If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, this online course How To Motivate Kids is a great place to start.
It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate about learning.
Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.
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