7 Ways to Have a Better Relationship with your Teenager
Have you ever felt weary or drained from the demands of raising a teenager? Living with a teenager can seem like your sweet precious child has been body snatched by a smelly, hormonal, ungrateful, irrational, monster. The teenage years are temporary (thank goodness) but those years are extremely important in development of bio, psycho, social, and spiritual domains. It turns out, those behaviors that are so frustrating in our teenagers are rooted in biology and serve a very important purpose—future procreation. Somewhere around 11-12 peers become increasingly important. The teenager’s brain is wired for risk taking (if we weren’t brave, we would never go to college, ask that cute girl/boy out, or move out). While an increasing gain in autonomy is good for the adults our teens will become, it can be a confusing time to navigate. Below are 7 Ways to get through the teen years with your parent-child relationship still intact.
1.) Understand that peer relationships are the most important thing to your teenager.
Whether you have an introvert or a social butterfly, peer relationships and developing those are critical at this point in development. Teenagers may become increasingly embarrassed by their parents, spend more time in their rooms on social media, or want to test out independence by going places without parents. Allowing them some space to experience these relationships while also providing a safety net for the inevitable teen drama and heartbreak is imperative to helping your teen become a healthy adult.
2.) Learn how to negotiate with your teenager
Negotiation is a part of life. You would surely want your child to advocate for him/herself when asking for a raise as an adult, or negotiating the best price on a car. Parents are our first teachers, and teenagers need a place to practice the art of negotiation. Being flexible as a teen parent is a challenge, but with practice, being able to “pick your battles” will help teenagers understand where their boundaries are, and how to effectively communicate with others.
3.) Model appropriate emotional regulation
As teens gain independence, they will try your patience. You may not think your teenager listens to anything you say, but I can guarantee they are watching everything you do. Teenagers are continually working to integrate experiences with what they have been told by parents and other adults (can I trust what others tell me) and the old adage “Do as I say, not as I do” does not work with teenagers. If you are inpatient, lose your temper, become argumentative, or disrespectful in communication, you can expect the exact same from your teenager. Teenagers are full of big emotions and while they are experiencing them, may feel like the only emotion they will ever have. Couple this with an underdeveloped pre- frontal cortex, and teenagers are just not as capable as adults at regulating their emotions. If they see adults who cannot control their emotions, they may feel justified in having outbursts-especially angry ones. Take time for yourself, engage in your own healthy coping skills for stress and anger, and allow your teenager to see you become upset, and control your emotions.
4.) Prepare your teenagers for adulthood
Yes, this is an obvious statement, but what I mean by that is that we have to allow them to have responsibility, and hold them accountable. This responsibility may include a later curfew, being allowed to go places with friends (football games, movies, school dances) or more decision making at home, their own checking account. Teenagers have to be able to try out adult skills while in the safety of their family. If we do not give teenagers an opportunity to learn how to be responsible, those skills will need be learned as an adult, when the consequences of making mistakes can become more irreversible. It can sometimes be counter intuitive to think about giving your teenager more freedom, especially when they may have an ungrateful attitude, or seem excessively moody or defiant, however, many times, when a teen’s need for a sense of “adult freedom” is met, then they are all around more agreeable.
5.) Listen to them and try to get to know them
Sit down and talk to your teen, even if it’s just in the car to and from practice. They want to be heard, adults just need to know how to listen, using reflective listening skills to listen for understanding to what your teenagers are saying. Part of good listening with your teenager is not to compare his/her experiences with your own. 2018 is a new world for adolescents with even more pressure and ability to make very poor decisions, literally at their fingertips. I believe that no matter which generation you grew up in, you cannot compare your struggles as a teenager to the struggles teenagers have today. I know, I said it, and I hope you will still hang in there with me for the rest of the post. The adolescent years where hard for us all (go ahead, take a quick trip down memory lane) with social and family pressures, uncertainties about the future, and temptations to make very bad decisions on every corner. Adolescence is a gauntlet we run to prepare us for adulthood. Teenagers have increased pressure to get into a good college, and also face an amazing amount of debt to make that happen. Social media and the pressures to look a certain way, or be a certain type of person and the ability for some teens to spread lies and rumors, creates a war zone landscape full of landmines for teens to try to avoid. The same pecking order that we were all apart of in middle and high school, is now amplified thanks to endless information at your fingertips. Our teens are growing up fast, and pretending that isn’t happening doesn’t make it so. I have heard from numerous parents that “My teenager never talks to me” and from numerous teenagers that “My parents don’t understand me.”
6.) Have fun with them
Make sure you are having some positive interactions. Laugh together. Many teens use sarcasm, and are just testing the waters with more sophisticated humor. Be silly and sarcastic with them. Play around, take the bait some times when they throw a life line. Joyfully parenting children of any age is important, but teenagers who are increasingly sensitive, and self-conscious, can benefit from playful parents. Keeping as many interactions as possible “light” with your teen, will allow you to be better heard when there is a serious subject (sex, drugs, safety) that needs to be addressed. Your teenager will know you mean business, and that this is not just “another nag session.”
7.) Set Appropriate Boundaries
Teenagers are going to test them, so make sure you are setting boundaries with a focus on safety and values which are also age and developmentally appropriate. Expectations should be clearly defined as well as rewards and consequences for when expectations are met or failed. Set boundaries around social media, curfew, academics and amount of time spent playing video games or just scrolling the internet. Also, setting family norms for respect and how to communicate will help make living with your teenager a little easier, and will pay dividends for them later when they are in their own relationships with partners, spouses, co-workers and children.
If you have a teenager who is experiencing excessive moodiness, isolation or emotional distress, email me firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about how we may be able to work together.