By: Andrew Rodgers
Perhaps one of the most common themes of parenting difficulty often revolves around parenting during the teenage years of life. Some parents may be wary, or if we’re honest even fearful, of how to approach a time in life when our children are no longer the babies they once were.
Teenagers are seeking independence, freedom, and responsibility, while still requiring the guidance, love, and support of their parents. Fear, not fellow parent! Parenting your teenage child does not need to be a weary or negative experience, and instead can be approached with the opportunity it truly is! To be able to connect with your child during adolescence as they transition to adulthood can be a rewarding, encouraging, and mutually enjoyable experience. To make the most of these precious years of your child’s life, let us start with some simple, yet profoundly important approaches to parenting your teen:
- Start to recognize your child’s “behaviors” as “needs”. What is your child’s behavior saying? The truth is behind every behavior there is a need being expressed. We all have needs, and when we don’t use our words to express them we do so with our behaviors. Your teenager’s behaviors may be arguing, pushing back, or even defiance. However, the need being expressed may be as simple as a need for independence. When we can start to see the need behind the behavior, we can adjust our approach accordingly.
- Consistency is key. Children of all ages, including teens, need consistency from their parents. Consistency provides a sense of safety in our lives, a sense of predictability. It is developmentally normal for your teenager to test your boundaries, and they may do so often. As a parent your role is to provide a consistent guardrail of sorts in your child’s life. When your teen tests the limit, your role is to consistently provide safe boundaries that they can expect to bump into every time. Your teen testing your limits and boundaries as a parent is not a sign of parenting failure, but just the opposite! It means you are fulfilling one of your greatest responsibilities in their life by providing safety and security through consistent and predictable boundaries.
- Put down the rope! One of the most common areas of frustration is when we find ourselves stuck in a power struggle. When a disagreement has escalated and you essentially reach a “stalemate” with your child, this is called a power struggle. A power struggle is like playing tug-of-war with your teen, both parties pulling as hard as they can, but in the end, one person falls and the other establishes power over the other, essentially a win-lose situation. The solution is simple, put down the rope. Try this simple phrase with your teen the next time you find a power struggle arising, “I love you too much to argue”. We only win a power struggle when we diffuse it by putting down the rope and refusing to participate in a no-win situation. From there, we can teach our teens a healthier way to connect, express needs, and communicate.
- It’s not what you say but how you say it. Your non-verbal communication is incredibly important. Think about not just your words, but the tone, volume, and cadence of those words. What do they communicate? What facial expressions are you making when you communicate? Are your eyebrows raised, are your lips tightly pressed? What about your shoulders, your arms, and your hands? Are they tight and clenched? Is your posture on an even level with your child, or are you towering over them? You may be trying to speak calmly to your teen, but your voice, face, and body may be communicating an entirely different message. In these moments, take a parent time out (Yes! It is ok for parents to take a time out too!) Take a deep breath, drink a glass of water, and resume the conversation when you feel you can better control your non-verbal communication.
Parenting during the teenage years does not need to be a struggle! In fact the exact opposite is true; parenting during the teenage years can be a rewarding and fulfilling time for both you and your teen. If you find yourself frustrated, tired, or defeated, just remember: put down the rope, take a time out, and start the conversation fresh with some new perspective.