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Teenagers and Independence: A Guide for Parents

While the teenage years are sure to make you go gray, they do not have to be as dramatic and stressful as you think they will be.

You made it through the feedings in the middle of the night, soared through the constant diaper changes, waited out the temper tantrums, and kissed the boo-boos. Sadly, the drama has only just begun, and you are going to miss those good old days.

The teenage years are cloaked with mystery and frustration. They are filled with sleepless nights and endless fights. If you thought the hard times were over, you were wrong!

While the teenage years are sure to make you go gray, they do not have to be as dramatic and stressful as you think they will be. With a little bit of guidance and a few simple rules, you can survive your teenager with minor damage to your ego.

Surviving Your Teen

Many adults have a negative view of teenagers. For decades teens have been viewed as thoughtless, careless, and cold-hearted. However, teens are actually quite passionate, caring, and energetic, and if you take a moment to look, you will find a deep, thoughtful person under that hard, rough shell.

Survival will come down to how you choose to act, the approach you take, and your willingness to understand this precarious life stage.

The teenage years are a time of struggle and self-discovery. You can be there to help them along the path to adulthood and encourage them to blossom into the beautiful flower that they are destined to become.   

Understanding the teen years

Adolescence has no strictly defined age. In fact, the start of adolescence is different for everyone. Some children bloom early, and others bloom late. While physical changes are associated with puberty, these changes occur at younger ages today and are different for every child. Thus, puberty – in the physical sense – does not mean that you have reach adolescence.

Many teens announce their arrival into this life stage with dramatic flair and extreme changes in behavior. They are starting to challenge their parents and are learning to stand on their own two feet, which can be difficult for them and the parents who have loved, cared for, and protected them for more than a decade.

Although you may feel like your teenager is an alien from some strange new world, teens are increasingly aware of how others view them (especially their peers) and are simply struggling to find their place. Peers become a replacement for parents, and teens begin to experiment with new looks and identities to see what feels best to them and find where they fit in.

While you may feel like you have been cast aside, rest assured that parents still play a vital role in their teenagers’ lives. Avoid conflict by embracing understanding and recognizing these changes as a phase of adolescence.

Life in a War Zone

While the image of the rebellious teenager adorned in black and constantly at odds with their parents is a deeply ingrained stereotype, there is definitely some truth to be found. Although this vision of teenagers may be true for some kids, it is not a universal trait held by all teens, and you must understand that each child is unique and different in their own ways.  

The goal of the teen years is to gain independence. That is what both the teen and parents want in the long run. To accomplish this goal, teens must start to pull away from their parents, and parents must begin to (regrettably)  loosen the reins.

This part of the process leaves parents feeling lost, alone, and undoubtedly confused. As time proceeds, however, teens learn to form their own opinions and identities. During this challenging time in their lives, teens will learn the most valuable lessons about themselves, and they will find their way back to you in the future. 

Although your days may be filled with hatred, and you may have to deal with menacing glares, unheard requests, and a whole lot of eye-rolling, each moment you share with your teenager provides a teachable opportunity for both of you.

Look Within For Guidance

You may need to stop sometimes and ask yourself, “Am I trying to control my teen? Am I allowing them to blossom and find their own way? Am I encouraging their interests or holding them back?”

The answers to these questions may not be easy, and watching your teen fail will tear you apart, but remember, it is through failure that we learn success. I did it, you did it, and your teen will do it too. It is a cycle of life that must repeat for it is filled with lifelong lessons that will guide your teen to adulthood.

Share your experiences openly with your teen, but do not pressure them to live a certain way. Allow your teen to make the same mistakes that you did and be there when they need a shoulder to cry on or someone to lift them off the cold floor. It is in the lowest moments that your parenting skills can shine brightest.

Tips For Parenting a Teenager

Remember what it was like

While it is easy to expect more of your children, it was not so long ago that you were a teen yourself. Try to remember the way it felt. Recall the pain, the drama, the sadness. Approach each issue you face from a place of love and understanding, as it was not long ago that your parents struggled to understand you.

Talk Early, Talk Often

Talking about periods, wet dreams, or sex after they have already occurred is like trying to brush your hair after shaving your head – it’s pointless. Talk to your kids before they become teens, and you will open the door for honest communication as they grow. Being open with your child about their body and sex will help prevent feelings of shame or embarrassment. It also encourages them to talk to you about their changing body and the emotions that come with these changes, rather than struggling to figure it out on their own and being given inaccurate information.

Pick Your Battles

Dyed hair, strange clothing, and random, unexpected piercings can be upsetting, but they should not cause WW3 to erupt within your home. You must pick your battles and learn to bite your tongue when it comes to teens. You may disagree with your teenager’s choices, but you must allow them the freedom to make those choices as they see fit. If it is not going to harm them or anyone else, stay out of it. It’s better to be the one picking up the pieces when a plan fails than to be the cause of the latest disaster.

Be Clear and Reasonable About Your Expectations

While your teen may be unhappy about their parent’s expectations of them, they usually end up understanding why they exist. Expectations tell your teen that you care about them, but they can also show that you trust and respect them as well. If you are clear about what you expect from your teen and are willing to understand that people make mistakes, your teen will step up and aim to live up to those expectations. Just be sure that you do not set the bar too high, or you will find that your teen struggles to prove their worth in ways that you may not appreciate.

The World is Changing, and You Must Change Too

The teen years are a time of experimentation—every one of us tried things when we were teens that we probably should not have done. Risky behavior goes hand-in-hand with being a teenager. Do not avoid discussion about these behaviors. Talk to your teen about sex, about alcohol, about drugs, about anything and everything that you possibly can. Think back to all the dumb stuff you did when you were younger and assume that they will do it as well. What do you wish you had known? Share your insight without judgment, and you will find that your teen is more likely to open up to you when they need advice. 

Give Your Teen Space and Privacy

Giving your teen space and allowing them privacy can be challenging for some parents. While you may want to monitor your teenager and feel that you need to know what they are up to at all times, this approach is sure to backfire. Knowing what your teen is doing, where they are, or who they are hanging out with is essential for their safety and your peace of mind. However, you should not have to stalk their social media to find out. Allowing your teen privacy and freedom will foster responsibility in the long run. Knowing that their parent is not peering over their shoulder at all times can be very empowering. Sure, they will make mistakes and do some very questionable things, but chances are they would have done them anyway. Teens are exceptionally crafty at finding ways around the rules. By allowing them the privacy and freedom to explore the world independently, you eliminate a reason for them to lie to you and encourage them to be open and honest.

Set Ground Rules

Don’t expect your 16-year-old to go to bed at 9 p.m or to be able to handle everything on their own. Just as when your teen was a young child, they require encouragement to succeed. Set some simple ground rules regarding friends, parties, and any other things that you can think of, but leave lots of wiggle room for them to figure it out themselves as well. A considerable part of the teen years is made up of mistakes. Allow your teen to mess up so that they can learn the valuable lessons that come with that. Again, if it is not hurting them or anyone else, it is best to let them figure it out and be there for guidance.  

The more open and honest you are with your teenager, the more open they will be with you. There will be things that you do not want to know. There will be moments you wish you were not a part of, but it is these moments that will shape your teen into the responsible adult that you want them to be. Providing them with the freedom to choose and the luxury of making mistakes is the greatest gift that you can give a teen child. Be there to support your teen, and you are sure to see them excel. There will be times when you will need to take charge, of course, but teens need to be able to stumble and fall if there is any hope of them leaving the nest down the line. Be ready to help when you are called upon, but sit happily on the sidelines and watch as your child blooms.

When To Worry

All of the subjects we have discussed here are ones that you will face when you have teen children. There are guaranteed to be many struggles ahead, and you are going to feel like a failure. The same goes for your teens as well. They are sure to feel like the world is caving in upon their heads at some point, and they may not be able to see a way out of the problem they are facing. While being there for your teen, willing to help is often enough to encourage proper choices and behaviors, there may come a time when parents cannot solve their teen’s problems, or teens may not be willing to share what their problem truly is.  There will be signs that indicate a deeper issue. Knowing these signs and being prepared to act is a pillar of good parenting.

Know The Signs of Trouble

While a certain amount of moodiness is expected, you must watch for signs of trouble in your teen and be ready to seek professional help when it is needed.

Watch for these signs that may indicate there is an issue:

  • Extreme weight gain or loss
  • Problems sleeping
  • Drastic changes in personality
  • A sudden change of friends
  • Skipping school that is new or worsening
  • Poor grades
  • Talking or joking about suicide
  • Signs of tobacco or drug use
  • Trouble with police

If you notice behaviors that you feel are concerning, talk to your teen about them. Ask them what’s going on, and remind them that you are always there to talk if needed. Any talk of suicide, illicit drug use, or drastic personality changes should be addressed by a professional. If you are worried about your teenager’s behavior or feel that their health and well-being are in danger, talk to your health practitioner immediately and get them some help. 

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