How many times have you heard the parent of a teenager say to the parent of a toddler: “enjoy it as much as you can now! if you think this is challenging, wait until your child becomes a teenager!”
Parents of teens often talk about the new challenges they face as their teen starts to develop their own social networks, belief systems and values, and start to push for more independence.
Parents may feel a sense of loss, feeling like they have no control anymore. Their instinct is to keep on protecting their child and shelter them from the external world while their teen’s instinct is to spread their wings and go off exploring the world. This can create conflicts as parents and teens struggle with the dance of dependence and independence, hanging on and letting go.
Below are some suggestions to help smooth out the transition:
Involve your teen in figuring out a solution
It can be very empowering for your teen to know that they can be a part of the solution to a problem. When you are both calm and free, approach your teen and tell them that you would like to discuss with them a challenge that you are both facing. Discuss the challenge and ask for their feedback and opinion then ask them to brainstorm with you a list of possible solutions. An example of a challenge you both face could be related to homework, you feeling like you are constantly nagging at them and your teen feeling smothered. As you go over the possible solutions suggested by both of you, agree on one that you both feel comfortable with. For example, you can agree with your teen that you will no longer constantly remind them about their homework as soon as they arrive home but instead give them time to relax, eat, and chill first. Once they are recharged, your teen will be starting their homework by themselves around 1.5 hours after they have first arrived home from school. Then agree with your teen about possible consequences should they fail to observe your agreement. For example, if they fail to finish their work before dinner time, then your teen might decide with you that a possible consequence could be cancelling any plans they have the next day, or waking up extra early the next day to finish up their work.
Once you both reach an agreement, Be consistent
In line with the above suggestion, it is important for both you and your teen to remain consistent to the terms of your agreement. This will help your teen feel that the world is predictable which will help them feel safe and secure. For example, if you agreed that the consequence for your teen coming back home later than the set curfew would be no outing the next week, stick to your decision. The same goes with the above consequences related to homework. This consistency will help your teen develop into a mature adult who assumes the consequences of their actions.
Give your teen more responsibility
Children are often ready to push their boundaries and take on more responsibility long before parents are ready to give them more, and that also includes teens. Giving your teen more responsibility is an important part of their growth and development and will help them develop vital decision making skills for the future. You can discuss with your teen some areas where you are willing to give them more freedom and discuss the associated expectations. For example, if your teen is asking for a phone, you can encourage them to assume more responsibility by asking them to contribute towards the cost of the phone. They could earn extra money by carrying out extra chores around the house for example, cutting down on their expenditure, or getting a summer job in a trusted place (if you have a friend or a colleague who is willing to hire them for the summer). Once they earn their phone, you can also agree with your teen on the rules of usage. For example, when they are out with their friends, they are expected to give you a call and update you on their whereabouts and the time when they will get home.
Finally, and most importantly, maintain an open line of communication with your teen. This will help them feel safe and secure knowing that they can come to you with their questions, concerns, and problems. This in turn will reinforce their sense of responsibility as they learn appropriate ways of seeking help by turning to an adult and having an open discussion about their issues, rather than engaging in maladaptive coping strategies.
Mona Merhej Moussa
You can read more about involving your teen in the decision making process and generating a solution in “Positive Discipline for Teenagers, Empowering Your Teens and Yourself Through Kind and Firm Parenting” by Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott (2012)
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