From birth until about age 12, a child's world is centered around the primary caregiver(s) and family. Social gatherings, activities, and relationships are family-oriented. Children, for the most part, go along with family decisions. Kids certainly have relationships other than with their parents and siblings, but the central relationships revolve around the family.
By the teen years (and a year or two before), a significant shift occurs in most teens' lives. A shift in attention goes from the family to peers. Teens no longer identify themselves as a son, daughter, brother, or sister. They want to spend much more time with friends, and less time at home or with the family. This is a natural process.
Underlying this social shift, is the formation of a new identity. Teens certainly don't want to be identified by hobbies or acts of younger years, they want to be seen as young adults moving from a state of dependence to independence. This is what leads to most of the conflict in the parent-teen relationship: the shift from dependence to independence. Here are some parenting tips to keep in mind when thinking of your teen(s):
- Trust. If your teen has been trustworthy thus far, keep trusting. Teens often report their parents rules are based on what happens with other teens.
- Manage your anxiety. Parents worry. Sometimes it's legitimate, but sometimes your own personal anxiety is misplaced into your parenting.
- Set the rules and consequences ahead of time. Be proactive, not reactive. Setting the rules ahead of time allows for you to be able to say, “We talked about this, it was clear.” It also allows you to say, “We agreed that if you were late, you have to come home early next Saturday.”
- Set the rules...mutually. Your relationship has a much better chance of being healthy if you mutually agree on rules. This doesn't mean letting your teen run wild, it means compromise. Give a little to get a little. Pick your battles. It's a great life lesson, too.
- Let your teen make mistakes. Yes, you read that correctly. That doesn't mean allow your teen to put themselves in dangerous situations, but it does mean let them learn by making mistakes. Would you rather them make mistakes while under your supervision, or when they are in college and learning from other 18 year-olds?
- Try to have dinner nightly as a family. Sometimes it's impossible, but aim to have dinner together daily at a certain time. It's a great way to keep up with your teens' lives and to maintain some sense of normalcy for your family.
- Check-in or have family meetings. Call family meetings when there is a problem and when things are going great. You don't want your teens to become averse to you saying “let's talk.”
- Invite their friends for dinner. This shows your teen that you are interested in their life. It also gives you a chance to get to know their friends. If the stars are aligned, the friends might even have a good time and disgust your teen by saying you are “cool”.
- Be a nonjudgmental listener. You have a much better chance at a healthy relationship if you listen without being critical. Over time, your teen will learn and notice this, and will be more likely to come to you when there is a serious issue.
- Talk to other parents of teens. Compare notes, generate ideas, and find support from other parents.
- Be imperfect. Parenting is messy. The teenage years are messy. Many teens feel relief when they realize they don't have to be perfect. Show your teens that making mistakes is human. It can positively impact their self-image and confidence. Saying "I don't know" can be the right answer.
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