For years you’ve been driving them to practice, games, and dances and now your young teens might be driving you…a little batty. Ah, the push and pull of living with a teenager. You may even be familiar with how a simple, “Hi, how are you?” switches to an all-out war as your teen accuses you of being way too intrusive! (The nerve of you to even ask…!) Teens can turn on a dime…often even for the better and parents need to learn how to hold on tight.
Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Liz helps us figure out how to enjoy the ride.
A teen’s struggle for independence is a cycle of pushing and pulling. I love the title of a book I came across that sums up this turbulent time, “Get Out of My Life – But First Will You Take Me and Cheryl to the Mall?” The “I’m Becoming My Own Person” phase of growing up is annoying, confusing, painful, exciting, and necessary, for BOTH parents and teens. A molting process has to take place where teenagers gradually shed dependency and prove to themselves, and their parents, that they are now capable of making their own decisions and handling responsibilities.
But perhaps the media portrays these years as even tougher than they really are. Even though reading teen’s emotions can be difficult – they are going through multiple stages and physical changes – movies and sit-coms have wrongly conditioned parents to fear the teenage years as a time of rebellion and unruly behavior. While it’s true that parents and teens need some adaptation skills, on some days more than others, teens and their parents really do get along.
Teens may seem they don’t care about what their parents say but research shows they do. Your opinion of your teen means more to them than anyone else’s. Trust me – even if you can’t tell that by their behavior. Nothing crushes the spirit of an adolescent more than you not thinking well of them.
Step-Up Deserving Praise
Teens also want to hear more from their parents when they’re doing things right! The majority of teens believe that their parents don’t give them enough credit for their positive behavior. Teenagers in a study out of BYU wanted more praise for when they go above and beyond. Now, parents could be praising but for some reason it’s not reaching teenage ears. Parents need to be more expressive and direct! (Perhaps it’s because they’re competing with so much high-speed technical influence.) Set aside quite time to talk, or even write a letter of deserving praise to your adolescent that they can read again and again.
Bring Down the Volume & Tone
Parents are more successful when they remain calm-and-cool. It isn’t easy because teens often think their parents are upset and yelling even when parents believe they are just simply talking. It reminds me of the research that determined 93% of our communication is non-verbal; only 7% of our communication stems from the words we use. Check-in with yourself; ask, “how’s my pitch, tone, and timbre.” If your teen says, “You’re yelling,” instead of saying, “I’m not either yelling,” believe them and change something to soothe the conversation and resume the dialogue.
What teens don’t always understand is that their parents often feel inadequate in their roles as parents and have their own anxiety they’re learning to manage.
Take a Break – Don’t Take the Bait
The best thing parents can do is NOT overreact according to the mood du jour of their teen because of their own arousal levels. Take a mental break before you create a breakdown between you and your teen. Pause. Step back for a moment. If there is mouthing off, “I hate you, ” or “Everyone else is doing it,” don’t react. Walk away and calm yourself before reengaging, and letting your teen know they crossed the line and that’s not acceptable.
It can be infuriating to have your rules and ideas challenged nonstop. It’s also hurtful when your teen wants to go to great lengths NOT to be associated with you or the family. However, if that’s what it takes for her to avid unspeakable embarrassment, so be it. Don’t mock her but go right along with it. And remember: while PDA’s may be out of the question, a private hug will almost always be welcomed.
Loosen Your Grip – Gradually
It’s frightening for parents to let their teens make their own decisions because they’re still so new at it and you want to protect them but teens need to take healthy risks and make mistakes. Now how much depends on their age, temperament, and how they’ve handled past responsibilities. You’re right. It is frightening. And that’s why many parents often tighten their grip during their children’s teen years. But, it is a mistake to make holding onto control as your defining mission. Make privileges earnable. The more trust your teen banks, the more trust you’ll give them.
Bottom line: Teens crave the freedom that comes from growing up but they have this even deeper need to stay safe, comfortable and close to you, their parents. There are days when you don’t have a clue what they’re thinking…and guess what? They don’t either. So you’re both in this together. And all you have to do is be there: not be perfect.
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