How to Parent Teens Without Losing Your Mind

Back when you were a teenager, you probably remember trying to figure out who you were.  Maybe you tried different hairstyles, clothing, sayings…During the adolescent stage of development, your teen is seeking the answer to the major life question:  Who am I?  As a parent, your answer to your child’s question who am I? might be along the lines of “I have no idea who you are–I don’t even recognize you!”

Identity is the major theme of development during this time in your teen’s life.

If you are a parent to a teenager, you’ll know this phase is tumultuous.  Adolescence is a time of upheaval for kids–and for the entire family.  The teen isn’t young anymore, but yet they aren’t quite ready to be on their own either.  Their brains are still forming and their hormones are on a roller coaster ride, making their behavior unpredictable and irrational at times.

The parents’ task in adolescence is to prepare their child to enter the world of adult commitments and responsibilities. This is not easy.  Modern life has certainly complicated this task.  Many parents work outside the home which limits the amount of time spent with their children.  A lot of parents can’t rely on extended family and community, so they struggle on their own.  Schools and extracurricular activities fill up the teenagers’ schedules.  Teachers and coaches are now a major source of  role models, boundary makers, and limit setters.  Additionally, teens are looking toward their peers and the media for their sense of what life is all about.  The family–who can be a major source of support for a teenager–is threatened because of the way we live.

Another complication of the teenager’s life is if divorce has occurred or they live in a single parent home.  As the mother to 3 teenagers (and one 20-year old), I have had my share of teenage issues come up–especially with 2 exes in the picture.  Many of you know my experiences with Parental Alienation (PA) and the difficulty that ensues when a child becomes aligned with a parent.  This disrupts the hierarchy of power in the family system as well as creating boundary issues.  It is difficult to parent when your power has been negated or when you are undermined by the other parent.

It is best if both parents agree on rules and repercussions for keeping their children safe.

Modern life has complicated the life of a teenager.  The teenager wants more independence, yet the parent still feels the need to protect them–which often ends in power struggles, rebellion, or withdrawal.  Your teen needs a life skills tool kit–tools they can use to make good choices; tools they can use in adulthood.  Fostering emotional intelligence in your child will help.  Most importantly, feeling a connection to you–the parent–is essential to getting through this stage relatively unscathed.

What are the needs of a teen at this time?

  • to feel a sense of belonging and love from both parents
  • to feel appreciated
  • to feel nurtured and cared for
  • to have clear expectations and repercussions

It is a tumultuous time for teenagers.  If they think you are out of control, they may feel this even more so.  During this time, parents may be dealing with their own issues–separate from their teenager’s angst and acting out.  Parents may feel disillusioned and dissatisfied by life, work, their marriage, or the failure of relationships with others.  This may result in becoming preoccupied with their teen’s issues instead of processing their own.  Many times, a parent may align with their teen against the other parent which only escalates the problem.  Alliances and alignment with the child mask deeper issues–usually marital problems.  The teenager becomes a distraction and focus for the parents.  The child is a symptom of a deeper issue–the parent’s relationship.  Focus on the child, the parents don’t have to focus on their marriage.  This is unconscious–the parents aren’t necessarily saying to each other, “Hey, honey, let’s fight about the kid and focus on them.  I feel uncomfortable talking about the way I feel–that I feel angry that you’ve abandoned us for your work and I suspect you’re having an affair and I feel really scared.”

Parenting teenagers is not easy.  There is no handbook out there that provides all the answers to adolescence.  Keep these things in mind as you navigate this stage:

  • Forgive them.  They’re going to make “mistakes”–just like you did.  Use these times as learning opportunities.  Save the lectures for when they’re in a better space to hear it.
  • Love them.  Hug them.  Your teen needs touch and they need to know they’re loved, accepted, and belong.
  • Work on yourself.  Unresolved issues come up for parents.  Maybe you’re dealing with family of origin issues or have feelings about your child asserting their independence.  Some single parents may have issues dealing with their child dating–especially if they aren’t in a relationship.
  • Get therapy if you need it–don’t wait until things are out of control
  • Take a break from an argument if you need to–but come back to it soon to finish up
  • If you always have the same argument, do something different.  If they try to bait you, don’t get suckered in.
  • Just because they’re full of drama doesn’t mean you have to be.  You’re the adult–model appropriate behavior.
  • Know where they are, who they’re with, and monitor cell phone/computer usage.  This doesn’t need to be oppressive–just have an idea of what’s going on in their lives.
  • Talk about things, ask about things
  • Talk to your child about sex–talk about the emotional aspects of it, not only the physical
  • Eat dinner together
  • Be the parent your kids need you to be
  • Talk about rules and repercussions–hold regular family meetings
  • Respect–it goes both ways
  • Walk your talk

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