By Beth Argus, MFT
Parenting teenagers is challenging. During this time, kids become allergic to parents and what once was a sweet, affectionate child who followed your rules may turn into a child that is defiant, moody and embarrassed to be seen in public with you. Gaining awareness of what is going on developmentally can help parents during these troubling years to avoid unnecessary conflict.
Between the ages of 11 and 13, adolescents are adjusting to pubertal changes, learning to use new cognitive capacities, finding a place among their peers, and dealing with gender related expectations. Physical appearance becomes very important. Kids become increasingly self-centered and are unable to see other perspectives. They often take a stance that "no one understands me". They also have an intense involvement with their peer group.
In Middle Adolescence (Ages 14-16), adolescents are dealing with handling their sexuality, making moral decisions, developing new relationships with peers and balancing autonomy and accountability. During this period, they develop a greater awareness of the needs of others and a greater willingness to compromise. They are not as interested in gaining tangible rewards and instead seek the approval from their peers.
There is an increased emphasis in being independent and free from parental rule. Defining one’s identity is very important which includes experimentation in a variety of areas.
During Late Adolescence (Ages 17-19), teenagers are consolidating their identity, experiencing intimacy, and preparing to leave home. They begin to narrow choices for the future, have are fewer arguments with parents, and have increased capacity of intimacy.
Here are some tips on how to deal with teenagers.**
Change your style of parenting from authoritarian to authoritative
"Authoritative parents are warm but firm. They set standards for the child’s conduct but form expectations that are consistent with the child’s developing needs and capabilities. They place a high value on the development of autonomy and self-direction but assume the ultimate responsibility for their child’s behavior. Authoritative parents deal with their child in a rational, issue-orientated manner, frequently engaging in discussion and explanation with their children over matters of discipline." *
Get Involved by establishing regular weekly times to doing something special with your child, not being afraid to ask where you kids are going, who they’ll be with and what they’ll be doing. Get to know your kid’s friends-and their parents-so you are familiar with their activities. Try to be there after school when your child gets home. Eat together as often as you can.
Learn to Communicate by finding out about your child’s interests. The more you communicate, the more at ease your child will feel about discussing drugs and other sensitive issues with you. Be absolutely clear about your stance on issues such as drugs and alcohol abuse. Don’t leave room for interpretation. Be a better listener by paraphrasing what your child says to you. Ask for their input about family decisions. Give honest answers. Don’t react in a way that will cut off further discussion. Instead, try to have a calm discussion about things that shock you. Role-play with your kids situations in which they may be asked to do something they do not want to do by their peers. Don’t take what is said personally.
Provide Objective Behavioral Feedback. (E.g., "when you do _____, I feel _______. What I would like instead is _________".)
Walk the Walk by being a day-to-day example of your value system and examining your own behavior. If you smoke, drink, or take drugs, don’t expect your child to take advice on not taking drugs. Seek professional help for yourself if needed.
Lay Down the Law. Kids between the ages of 11-13 are highly at risk for drug experimentation. They are increasingly independent. Despite their protests, they still crave structure and guidance; they want you to show them you care enough to set limits. Create rules and discuss in advance the consequences. Set a curfew and enforce strictly. Have kids check in. Call parents whose home is to be used for a party and make sure adequate supervision is taking place.
Praise and Reward consistently and immediately. Accentuate the positive. Step back and let your kids make mistakes. Stick by them and trust their ability to overcome frustration and obstacles. Remember that Childhood is preparation and not a performance.
If there are more serious problems such as eating disorders, substance use, depression, withdrawal, delinquency or academic difficulties then seeking professional help is advisable. Remember that in dealing with these serious issues it is easy to focus on the symptoms and forget to deal with the true issues underlying the behavior. For example, a child with an eating disorder could be feeling very disconnected from his/her family and is using the disorder to have some control over the family. In these cases, working on communication issues and improving relationships within the family is crucial. Seeking professional help is a way to work on communication issues as well as to gain necessary resources for problem behaviors. The following are some good resources regarding parenting teenagers.
Early Adolescence Understanding the 10-15 Year Old by Gail A. Caissy Plennum Press.
Get Out Of My Life But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide To The NewTeenager, by Wolf, Anthony E., Harper Collins Canada Ltd., 1991
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, Kimberly Ann Coe (illustrator)
Parenting Teenagers: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting(Step) by Gary D. McKay (Contributor), Don, Sr. Dinkemeyer. Paperback (September 1990) For a free copy of Growing Up Drug-Free: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention, call the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program at 1.877.4EDPUBS. Additional resources on drug prevention can be ordered through the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1.800.788.2800 or by visiting their web site at www.theantidrug.com
* Source The Adolescent in Family Therapy. Breaking the Cycle of Conflict and Control by Joseph A. Micucci, The Guildford Press, 1998
** Source Parenting Skills 21 Tips and Ideas to Help you Make a Difference from the Office of National Drug Control Policy
"Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld’s Secrets of Better Parenting Often Less is Much More" Bottom Line, Volume 21, Number 15 August 1, 2000