Raising teenagers can be challenging, but there are ways to make it easier.
If you’ve ever asked your teen for help with an electronic device and marveled at their technological fluency, you know that a lack of intelligence isn’t the reason for what seems like some pretty counter-productive behavior.
Parenting teenagers can be frustrating and confusing.
You might have a robotics expert who’s been fired from three entry-level jobs. Or maybe your teen is an honor roll student who spends her weekends in tears over social politics.
How can they be so smart in some ways and yet still make avoidable mistakes? When you offer advice, they don’t seem to hear it. Sometimes you might wonder if it’s even possible for your teen to change their ways.
Every teen is different, and finding strategies that work for yours can make your parenting role easier.
Tips for their mental health
To help cultivate their mental well-being, you might want to:
Practice active listening
Active listening is the practice of listening to understand, rather than waiting your turn to give your opinion. You can try:
- offering your undivided attention by pausing your current activity, looking at your teen, and showing them you’re ready to listen
- letting them talk without interruption, and staying calm as you listen with interest and without judgment
- asking thoughtful questions about what they’ve told you and their opinions about it
It’s important to listen whenever your teen is ready to talk. If you’re available to hear the small stories like details of a favorite video game or descriptions of a current clothing style, they’ll know you can listen. Listening openly makes it easier for them to approach you with important topics.
Speaking of important topics
Here are a few primers on serious talks you or your teen might broach:
Maintain supportive boundaries
Boundaries can be easier to maintain if you teach your teen to consider them protective rather than restrictive.
They can be negotiable and should go both ways. For example, you can set boundaries like homework before social media. Meanwhile, if your teen doesn’t want you posting images or stories about them without their consent, you can comply to demonstrate respect for their boundaries.
Collaborate rather than control
Adolescence is when your child is forming an identity separate from yours. If you continue trying to exert control, there’s a chance they’ll rebel rather than listen.
For example, they may refuse if you direct them to start their school project. Instead, asking about their project plans and how you can support them might motivate them to get started.
An important part of de-escalating a conflict with your teen is to stay calm.
- You can remind yourself to not absorb or respond to all your kid’s lows and woes (effectively overriding those mirror neurons) so your teen’s mood doesn’t upset you.
- Your calm response can shorten the length of time your teen is escalated.
- Your rational behavior models emotional regulation for your teen.
Mean what you say
Just like younger kids, teens benefit when parents follow through with consequences. If you told your teen they’d lose their car privileges for the weekend if they broke curfew, then take away the keys even if they seem apologetic.
Admitting when you’ve made a mistake sends powerful messages to your teen: Mistakes happen, you can recover, and you can learn and grow.
It’s important to take steps to fix your mistake rather than apologizing without changing.
When you self-advocate, you teach your teen to do the same for themselves.
For example, if they’re venting about house rules, it helps to actively listen to their perspective. If they start adding insults and rude comments, you can calmly set boundaries by reminding them about appropriate communication.
Tips for your mental well-being
As parents, it may help to remind yourself that:
It’s not about you
It’s developmentally typical for teens to want some distance from their parents. They also tend to prioritize the opinions of peers over yours.
It may feel like you’re losing your child to adolescence, but the effect is only temporary. You’ve built their foundation and are still their main support. You’re their family, even if they don’t acknowledge it as they have in the past.
Behavior can be communication
The yelling, stomping, and slamming doors aren’t a reflection of your parenting ability. Instead, it’s your teen expressing an unmet want or need.
The “want” might be a privilege you’ve denied them, like a party at a friend’s house with no adults present. The “need” might be a break from school social politics.
Either way, it’s a time of their life where frustrations are understandable, and outbursts are common.
They may act out the most with their safest people
If you’ve ever used manners at work, then come home and vent to your partner, you’ve experienced a common trait of human nature: The emotional catharsis in the safety of a secure relationship.
If your teen comes home and has a meltdown, it might be because you make them feel safe enough to unload the stress from their day.
Even if your teen feels safe enough to unleash their emotions to — or on you — doesn’t mean it’s healthy, safe, or productive. Be sure to guard your mental well-being too.
You might also beware of Manipulative Teenagers: Signs to Recognize and What to Do.
Why do we even need all these approaches to communicate with our teens?
There’s a scientific explanation behind your teen’s apparent lack of relatable thinking. It’s what researchers call the mismatch model, where the emotional and reward processing brain regions mature faster than the areas responsible for social cognition and self-regulation.
This is something that time can improve as your teen’s brain transitions into its young adult version by
Meanwhile, you can try the strategies above to make the teen years more manageable — for both your teen and yourself.
Teens push boundaries and make questionable choices. It’s a typical phase of their development, and it doesn’t mean they’re problem kids or you’ve dropped the ball while parenting.
You can support them with patience, active listening, and clear boundaries. They can benefit from the natural consequences of some mistakes as they learn resilience, with you in their corner to help them through each day.