Helpful Tips for Parenting Teens
Most parents of teens eventually ask themselves a common sequence of questions when they are frustrated with their teenage daughter or son. The questions go something like this, “What has happen to the child I raised, and when will she or he be coming back?” No show of hands, but many parents would agree that you have either been there, see it coming, or preparing for such questions. This blog post provides some basic tips and several resources for parents of teens and is useful for adults that work with them. The following is only a suggested baseline of understanding and should not be taken to be a comprehensive approach to every family or every teen.
Put your ego aside, be present, and be an active listener
When it comes to parenting teens, there are some specific skills you should develop and attempt to master to have effective relationships with them. The first thing I recommend for parents and anyone else working with teens (and I know this is hard) is to remove your ego from the conversation. We approach conversations with teens from a position of unequal power. During more challenging conversations that power differential, along with our own agenda-that we know better and they know little- easily allows for prejudgments, assumptions, and hard directives. Approaching teens from such a position rarely ends well. After putting your ego aside, remember to be present by avoiding all distractions, turning off the TV, putting down the phone, etc. Your teen should feel like they have your full attention. Serious conversations with teens should be as distraction-free as possible.
Professional literature in this area shows that the most effective skill to develop for successfully engaging teens and adolescents is active listening. You can learn more about the importance of active listening and tips for doing so here. Simply put, active listening skills involve adults:
• getting close (sitting at a round table where space can be close but adjustable works well)
• giving your teen your full attention (being present)
• allowing your teen to talk and not interrupting (this is where your ego can get in the way)
• avoiding questions that break your teen’s train of thought
• focusing on what your teen is saying rather than thinking about what you’ll say next
• looking at your child so she or he know they are being heard and understood
• showing your teen that you’re interested by nodding your head and making reflective comments like:
“I can see why you would feel that way”
“That sounds like a tough situation to navigate, how do you think you will handle it?”
Developing or improving your listening skills will be the best investment you can make for improving your relationship with a teen.
It is okay not to have an answer
Parents tend to think it is our solemn duty to have the answers for the problems teens face today. But contrary to our natural drive to do this, knowing it all can be a counterproductive stance to take. It is part of a teen’s natural development process to want to take the lead in solving the problems they confront. During the ages of 14 to 19, teens are developing their own sense of identity, unique to who they are, and separate from us, no matter how hard adults try to convince them otherwise. Given these development factors, it is more appropriate to employ a more advising approach with teens to assist them in identifying potential solutions to problems. The CDC makes available to the public a tip sheet that I find useful when working with families. More important than having all the answers for your teen, it is more productive to foster an environment in the home that encourages open communication along with guided decision making.
Drop the aggressive parenting style
Aggressive parenting is one in which there are rigid rules and strict enforcement of those rules. There is no room for negotiation and leadership is autocratic. The emphasis in this style of parenting is on conformity, and only the parent’s opinion counts. Indicators of an aggressive parenting style include:
• Having persistent power struggles with your teen
• Accusing your teen of having bad intentions
• Discrediting your teen’s ideas
• Tricking, teasing, humiliating
• Harsh Punishments
• Rigidly enforcing rules
• Withholding information about expectations or not providing clarity on what they are
• Having a litany of strict rules
Having this approach as your parenting style can seriously damage the relationship you have with your teen. Instead what is referred to as the Assertive Style of parenting is more conducive to producing positive relationships with your teen. Indicators of the Assertive style of parenting include:
Persisting until your requests are followed
Listening to your teens point of view
Giving brief reasons
Being honest with your feelings
Setting reasonable consequences
Making clear, direct requests
Having rules that are flexible
The Center for Parenting Education suggests the following tips for using an Assertive Parenting Style.
The tips provided in this blog post only scratch the surface when it comes to possible suggestions for developing productive relationships with teens. Unfortunately, there are various circumstances within families that can disrupt healthy relations between parents and teens. As examples, divorce, the death of a close friend or relative, or the incarceration of a parent may all serve as the root cause for maladaptive behaviors in teens. Moreover, teens that have been exposed to bullying, or trauma of some kind can also exhibit maladaptive behaviors that can be misinterpreted by parents and other adults. If your family is experiencing such challenges please know that True Impact Counseling Services, PLLC is here for you. We provide family counseling services in a confidential, no judgment space. Our counseling services take place in an office setting, evening and weekend appointment times are available. Be blessed!
General parent resources
Teen substance use resources
Teen Crisis resources for North Carolina (select your county to search)
Crisis Services telephone number for Wake County North Carolina area
Teen Behavioral Health Resources
Travis E. Williams M.Ed., LPC, CRC is Lead Counselor and Owner of True Impact Counseling Services, PLLC. Travis is a licensed professional counselor and a nationally certified rehabilitation counselor. Travis is a solution-focused counselor that specializes in men's issues, family therapy, and individual therapy. In his spare time Travis enjoys walking in local parks, greenway bike rides in Wake and Johnston Counties and spending quality time with his wife of eighteen years and his son.