Adolescence can be a confusing time of change for teens and parents alike. But while these years can be difficult, there’s plenty you can do to nurture your teen and encourage responsible behavior. You may not feel like you have much influence on your child these days, but teens’ behavior is highly correlated with the strength of their bonds with their parents.
Good relationships between teenagers and their parents leads to more academic success and general happiness for the teenager By contrast, weak or conflictual parent/teen relationships are related to early sexual activity, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, the teen’s involvement in violence and mental health problems. The most effective parenting strategy with teens is to focus on the relationship. Punishments just drive your teen away and make it less likely that you’ll have the information about what’s going on in his life that you need to be a good parent. The only leverage you really have with your teen is love.
Show your love
Positive attention is a must for teens. Spend time with your teen to show him or her that you care. Listen to your teen when he or she talks, and respect your teen’s feelings. Don’t assume that your teen knows how much you love him or her.
If your teen doesn’t seem interested in bonding, keep trying. Regularly eating meals together might be a good way to connect. Better yet, invite your teen to prepare the meal with you. On days when you’re having trouble talking to your teen, consider each doing your own thing in the same space. Being near each other could lead to the start of a conversation.
Keep in mind that unconditional love doesn’t mean unconditional approval. You can discipline your teen while showing that you won’t withdraw your love based on his or her behavior. If you’re pointing out something that your teen could do better, keep your criticism specific to the behavior rather than making personal statements about your teen.
Set reasonable expectations
Teens tend to live up or down to parental expectations, so set your expectations high. But instead of focusing on achievements, such as getting high marks, expect your teen to be kind, considerate, respectful, honest and generous.
When it comes to day-to-day accomplishments, remember that teens gain confidence through success, which can prepare them for the next challenge. As your teen takes on more difficult tasks, instead of setting the bar yourself, support him or her to determine what he or she can handle. If your teen comes up short, react supportively and encourage him or her to recover and try again. It’s more important to praise your teen’s effort than the end result.
Set rules and consequences
Discipline is about teaching, not punishing or controlling your teen. To encourage your teen to behave well, discuss what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable at home, at school and elsewhere. Create fair and appropriate consequences for how your teen behaves. When setting consequences:
- Avoid ultimatums. Your teen might interpret an ultimatum as a challenge.
- Be clear and concise. Rather than telling your teen not to stay out late, set a specific curfew. Keep your rules short and to the point. Make consequences immediate and linked to your teen’s choices or actions.
- Explain your decisions. Your teen might be more likely to comply with a rule when he or she understands its purpose. There might be less to rebel against when your teen knows that a limit is being imposed for his or her safety.
- Be reasonable. Avoid setting rules your teen can’t possibly follow. A chronically messy teen might have trouble immediately maintaining a spotless bedroom.
- Be flexible. As your teen demonstrates more responsibility, grant him or her more freedom. If your teen shows poor judgment, impose more restrictions.
When enforcing consequences, reprimand your teen’s behavior — not your teen. Avoid lecturing your teen about his or her shortcomings and the abstract, far-off consequences, which can motivate your teen to prove you wrong. Don’t use a sarcastic, demeaning or disrespectful tone. Embarrassing your teen can instill a sense of shame, put him or her in a defensive position, and distract him or her from reflecting on what he or she has done wrong. Before you speak, consider asking yourself if what you’re about to say is true, necessary and nonjudgmental.
While it’s important to consistently enforce your rules, you can occasionally make exceptions when it comes to matters such as homework habits and bedtime. Prioritizing rules will give you and your teen a chance to practice negotiating and compromising.
However, consider beforehand how far you’re willing to bend. Choose your battles wisely. Don’t negotiate when it comes to restrictions imposed for your teen’s safety, such as substance abuse, sexual activity and reckless driving. Make sure your teen knows that you won’t tolerate tobacco, alcohol or other drug use.
Set a positive example
Teens learn how to behave by watching their parents. Your actions generally speak louder than your words. Show your teen how to cope with stress in positive ways and be resilient. Be a good model and your teen will likely follow your lead.
Some additional Positive Parenting tips include:
- Give kids some leeway.
Giving teens a chance to establish their own identity, giving them more independence, is essential to helping them establish their own place in the world.
- Parent actively and appropriately.
You need to acknowledge that your son or daughter is growing up and needs more freedom. But don’t be afraid to ask where your kids are going, who they’ll be with and what they’ll be doing. Get to know your kids’ friends and their parents so you’re familiar with their activities.
It helps to meet kids you have questions about. When adolescents see how their friends act with their parents, they can get a better sense of those friends,
- Discuss ‘checking in.’
Adolescents should be given age-appropriate autonomy, especially if they behave appropriately, but you need to know where they are. That’s part of responsible parenting. If it feels necessary, require them to call you during the evening, to check in. But that depends on the teen, how responsible they have been.
- Talk to teens about risks.
Whether it’s drugs, driving, or premarital sex, your kids need to know the worst that could happen.
- Give teens a game plan.
Discuss with your teen a plan for when they find themselves in an uncomfortable or potentially unsafe situation. Come up with a solution that feels comfortable for that child.”
- Keep the door open.
Don’t interrogate, but act interested. You can share a few tidbits about your own day; ask about theirs. How was school? How was your day? Another good line: “You may not feel like talking about what happened right now. I know what that’s like. But if you feel like talking about it later, you come to me,
- Let kids feel guilty.
Feeling good about yourself is healthy. But people should feel bad if they have hurt someone or done something wrong. Guilt is a healthy emotion. When kids have done something wrong, we hope they feel bad, we hope they feel guilty.”
Establish dependable together time
Be sure to check in every single day. A few minutes of conversation while you’re cleaning up after dinner or right before bedtime can keep you tuned in and establish open communication. Even teens who seem to have forgotten who their parents are the other 23 hours a day often respond well to a goodnight hug and check-in chat once they’re lounging in bed. In addition to these short daily check-ins, establish a regular weekly routine for doing something special with your teen, even if it’s just going out for ice cream or a walk together.
Try to be there after school.
The biggest danger zone for drug use and sex isn’t any particular day or night; it’s between 3 and 6 PM on weekdays. Arrange flex time at work if you can. If your child will be with friends, make sure there’s adult supervision, not just an older sibling.
Encourage good self-care
Self care includes getting a good night’s sleep and a good diet. Coffee is a bad idea for early teens because it interferes with normal sleep patterns. Too much screen time, especially in the hour before bedtime, reduces melatonin production and makes it harder for kids to fall asleep at night.
Continue family meetings
Held regularly at a mutually agreed upon time, family meetings provide a forum for discussing triumphs, grievances, sibling disagreements, schedules, any topic of concern to a family member. Ground rules help. Everyone gets a chance to talk; one person talks at a time without interruption; everyone listens, and only positive, constructive feedback is allowed. To get resistant teens to join in, combine the get-together with incentives such as post-meeting pizza or ice cream, or assign them important roles such as recording secretary or rule enforcer.
- Keep kids safe and connected to the family by keeping computers in your common space.
It can be hard for parents to track what teens do online because they usually know more about the computer than we do. But research shows that he’ll be less tempted to spend time doing things you’d disapprove of if the computer is in a common space, where you can walk by and glance at what he’s doing. Kids live online these days, but he can still stay connected to his family if online is in the heart of your home.
Don’t push your teen into independence before he’s ready
Every teen has his own timetable for blossoming into an independent person. Real independence includes close relationships with others, and it never needs to include rebelliousness. It is NOT healthy for your child to feel that you’re pushing him into independence — that only leads to him becoming overly dependent on the peer group for validation. Respect his timetable.
Make agreements and teach your child to make repairs
If you’ve raised your child without punishment, he will almost certainly be close to you. Because he doesn’t want to damage the trust between you, he won’t lie to you, and he won’t usually infringe on your limits. If he does, ask him how he can make repairs, including repairing your trust.
What if you’ve raised your child with punishment, and now she’s breaking your rules and lying to you?
It’s never too late to help her learn to take responsibility, but to start, she has to value her relationship with you. That means you need to stop punishing, and start listening and connecting. You also need to insist that she find ways to make repairs. That’s a tricky dance, because punishment will make things worse, so she has to choose the repair– and yet you are still insisting that she do so. No, it’s not a punishment — it’s a way for her to make things better when she messes up, which is what all adults need to learn to do. But she’ll only understand it this way if she wants to please you, so if you need to go to counseling together to create that relationship, don’t hesitate.
Stay connected even as she moves into the world
If we’ve accepted our child’s dependency needs AND affirmed her development into her own separate person, she’ll stay connected to us even as her focus shifts to peers, high school and the passions that make her happy.
It’s appropriate for teens to want to spend more time with their peers than their parents as they get older, but kids who are well grounded in their families will respond well to parents’ efforts to stay connected. And parents who have bonded adequately with their children at each earlier stage will feel invested enough in their teens to stay connected, even if a lot of effort is required.
It’s critical, during the teen years, for parents to remain their children’s emotional and moral compass. Kids will begin to experiment with intimate relationships outside the family, but to do that successfully, they still rely on those intimate relationships at home remaining solid. That means that a 14 year old who focuses mostly outwards is probably looking for something he wasn’t getting at home.
We need to invite our children to rely on us emotionally until they’re emotionally ready to depend on themselves. Too often, in our culture, we let teenagers transfer their dependency outside the family, with disastrous results. Teens often give up a great deal of themselves in pursuit of the closeness they crave, only to crash against the hard reality that other teens aren’t developmentally able to offer them what they need to flourish as independent young adults.
You may not be at the top of your teen’s list nowadays, but try really hard to stay close, and don’t take it for granted that your child will now push you away. That’s a sign of a damaged relationship. Don’t give up. It’s never too late in your relationship with your child to do repair work and move closer.
Parenting skills: Tips for raising teens – Mayo Clinic