“You think that you have it difficult now, wait until the teenage years.” How many times have we heard this? I am going to risk sounding like I am complaining and voice a concern that I have with this attitude. Obviously the real book of parenting is written as you go. Adolescent years can be difficult for parents, but do not make the mistake of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for you and your teenage child.
Times have changed. The hidden rolling of our eyes that we used to do to our parents has turned into more verbal confrontations with many of our adolescents of today. I am not saying that you should tolerate disrespect, but too often I have worked with parents who focus on too many of the negatives and who cannot tell me of many of the interests that their teenage child currently has. The first suggestion that I have is to know the interests of your teenage child. Remember that many of these interests, especially early on in adolescents, are likely to be built on fantasizing, and may not be realistic. For example, I can recall working with adolescent males who wanted to grow up to be movie stars, video game developers, or star athletes. It is not likely that they are going to achieve this dream, but this interest is something to foster. Help them learn from their discussions with you about their interests to encourage growth and ideas of other hobbies. This is also key in career development. Although the child’s current, overall goal might not be achievable, the progression of ideas fostered by this can lead to future career growth.
The second suggestion that I have is to set clear boundaries and be realistic if you can reinforce them. If you can’t reinforce a boundary, then be careful how you set it. For example, if your adolescent wants to have a Facebook account, it is a more realistic idea to help them set it up with some restrictions than to deny it altogether. Otherwise, all you will be accomplishing is teaching your adolescent to be sneaky. Thus, it is a much better idea to say “yes, but…” instead of immediately responding with “no.” If you are asked if your teenager can do something, try to think of ways that this could be done in a safer way. There will be times when you have no choice, but to say “no.” However many parents get caught in looking at their options as all-or-nothing, instead of working with their child to help them figure out a way that this could be done. Teenagers want to know what is in it for them. For example, if you have a young teenage girl who wants to hang out with a boy and you have a rule that she cannot spend time with boys alone, sitting down with her and reminding her of your boundary and ask her what ideas she might have. Now she will likely pout about this and may even get irritable about it, but over time she may come to you with an idea of how this could be done in a way that fits the household rules. Either way, you are empowering her with a decision, and she may leave the discussion getting what she wants, but keeping your parental needs in mind as well.
I have worked with many adolescents and their parents over the years. Two common mistakes that I have seen are parents not spending enough time focusing on the positives of their child and not involving their child in decision-making. This leads the child to become sneaky, lonely, bored, and increases the “lost” feelings that are associated with adolescence. I recommend that you set clear boundaries, focus on and foster interests, and encourage decision-making. This will inevitably help build self-esteem, a stronger sense of independence, and encourage career-development and goal-setting.