Parents and Teens: Surviving Adolescence Together
By: Elliott Counseling Group
The adolescent years can be quite a challenge for parents and teens alike. Wacky hormones and peer influence can be a recipe for stress for parents who simply want their teen to navigate the path to adulthood with ease. Because children do not come with a manual when they are born, parents have to make good decisions on the fly each day in order to guide their children through each phase of their young lives. The teen years present brand new experiences, not just for teens, but for parents as they are pummeled with higher expectations for school performance, homecoming celebrations and prom, romantic relationships, and learning to drive. In order for parents and teens to navigate these years together successfully, there are a few general ideas parents should keep in mind.
Open Communication is Key
During adolescence, teens experiment with becoming more independent and relying less on their parents. Having the freedom to be able to become his or her own person is very important to a teen. Therefore, it is important for you to find a balance between allowing your teen the space to grow and being aware of what is occurring in your teen's life. If your teen feels comfortable sharing his or her thoughts, feelings, and current events with you, this is a great step in the right direction. In order to foster open communication, you should try to keep an open mind and not be quick to judge your teen. This is a hard task as some things may be hard for you to hear. However, you need to understand that if you want to continue to be “in the know,” you need to do everything possible to keep the lines of communication open. When I was a teenager, I always remember arriving home after school to my mother, who was excited to hear about the events of my day. I felt comfortable sharing not only the lessons I learned in my classes, but all the juicy drama and gossip. This was important to me as she often gave me good feedback and allowed me the space to vent any frustrations I had from my school day. Once we finished catching up with each other, I usually headed to my room to either work on my homework or make a few phone calls to my friends. Mom didn’t take it personally that I “disappeared” to my room for a few hours as she found it normal that, as a teenager, I would also like my privacy. Because open communication was normal between my parents and me, I’m sure it would have been noticeable to them if I suddenly stopped communicating with them. As soon as your teen stops communicating with you, you have been shut out for some reason and there could be a problem.
In order to provide structure for your teen, you need to be open about your expectations for your teen's behavior. Your teen should never have to wonder what you expect of them and what the rules of the house are. Having an honest discussion with your teen about expectations for important things, such as curfew, homework, grades, and relationships with their peers is imperative to providing the structure and guidance that teens need to have a successful adolescent experience. If there is a discrepancy between your expectations and your teen's desires, you should discuss the discrepancy and come to an agreement that is comfortable for everyone. It is important for you to set clear guidelines and expectations for your teen. Children of all ages appreciate structure because it provides a sense of security and predictability. You and your teen also need to discuss consequences for breaking the rules before they even have a chance to consider doing so. They need to know what to expect from you.
Know Their Friends
It is extremely important for you to know who your teen's friends are and to know their friend's parents. While you are the most valuable role model for your teen, you teen's friends have a huge impact on their behavior. Encourage your teen to invite their friends over to “hang out” or to have dinner with your family. Additionally, knowing a little bit about their friend's parents is important because parenting a teen becomes difficult when their friends' family values are drastically different from your family values. No parent wants to hear, “But Susie's parents let her stay out until four in the morning, why can't I?” While it is important for your teen to socialize with other teens from different backgrounds, you just need to be aware of their friend's family situations and how they may affect your teen's attitude and behavior. It may seem ideal for your teen to have friends with identical values and family rules, but it is not realistic. However, if you are aware of who their friends are and who their friends' parents are, you will have an easier time understanding and correcting problematic behaviors.
Being there for your teen, being open about your expectations, and being involved in their social life are just a few of the various methods to help you and your teen survive adolescence. As you and your teen progress through adolescence, remind yourself of what it was like for you to be a teenager and what your needs were during that time. While your teenage years may have been different, you can most likely still empathize with the complexity of your teen's adolescent experience.