Sometimes, it’s the most subtle things that let you know that your baby is slipping away. It’s in the way they stop needing hugs, or in how they say, “Stop mom, you’re embarrassing me!”
Sometimes, it’s in the way they say, “I’ve got this.” Those three words totally threw me for a loop. I had been preparing to help my son pack his backpack. I’d thought, “New school, stricter routines, new subjects — he’ll need my help.” Turns out he didn’t. “I’ve got this,” he said.
I must admit that a part of me was happy — our son was becoming the responsible teenager that we had hoped he would become. Still, it felt like treading on slippery ground, and we had all of these questions running through our heads: Would we have to forget everything that we thought we knew about raising kids and start again? Would we have to hold tighter or let go? How much freedom is too much?
Navigating teenage transitions can be a rather bumpy affair. That the adolescent years are conflict years is a poorly kept secret. Children at this stage want to prove that they are now “adults.” They challenge everything. They want to be right all the time. And they drive you up the wall! Yet they need you, desperately, because the teenage years are also years of insecurity and doubt, not just for kids but for parents as well.
The good news is that some parenting strategies can make it easier to navigate the transition to adolescence.
Here are five things that you can do to navigate the tricky teenage years.
1) Stay far away but so close.
I still remember what our son’s junior high teachers said during our first meeting in school: “Your kids are probably acting in ways that make you see them as ‘little adults.’ They’re not.” The truth is that teenagers need just as much attention as younger kids — they just need a different kind of attention. Although you may not notice it, they are constantly looking over their shoulders to ensure that you’re there “just in case.”
This means that we need to watch out for them, advise them when they ask or need our help, and help them make important decisions. But it also means that we must know when to back off and let them make their own decisions — and experience the consequences of those decisions.
Let them know that you are available and there for them. Several research studies have found that teenagers who feel close to and supported by their parents have lower levels of depressive symptoms.
2) Teenagers need to play an active decision-making role.
Children’s desire to play a greater role in the decision-making process increases as they grow older. The available scientific studies show that allowing them to do so helps strengthen their decision-making skills and increases the chances that they will abide by the set rules.
What this means is that instead of telling your teenager what chores to do, you can give them a list of what needs to be done and ask them to choose their chores. Then you can ask them what they think would be fair consequences if those chores are not done by the time they should be completed.
3) Don’t take things personally.
The teenage years are difficult years for most kids. This is a time of change and confusion, triggering moodiness, angry outbursts and constant back talk. Young children often act out at home because that is where they feel most safe. Teenagers are no different. They might have a hard day in school, but it is at home that most of them will explode. Remember that this behavior is rarely about you: It’s just their way of expressing their frustrations.
That said, your teenager must know that while emotions are valid and acceptable, grossly disrespectful or aggressive behavior is not.
4) Let them know your expectations.
Teenagers will always act as though household rules exist only to ruin their lives. But the truth is that they appreciate having a framework to guide their behavior. Setting social, behavioral and academic expectations also shows them that you care about them.
But setting expectations means deciding what really matters and being willing to be flexible on what matters less. Too many rules destroy morale, trust and motivation.
Setting expectations is also about being clear about what you consider to be unacceptable behavior from your teenager, enforcing logical consequences and being firm about your expectations.
5) Find ways to connect with your teenager.
Research says that the quality of the parent-teen relationship has a major impact on adolescents’ behavior and mental well-being. In one study, researchers found that positive relationships led to greater mental well-being and less delinquency. They also found that family routines and parental monitoring and supportiveness were beneficial to adolescents’ development.
It is important to connect with your child during the teenage years and to build happy memories together. Show an interest in their activities by regularly asking for updates, even when you barely understand what they are talking about. Play their favorite video game with them if they let you! Do the things that your family has always enjoyed. If you have family traditions, keep doing them. If you don’t, this could be the perfect time to adopt a family tradition to help bond your family.
Remember that although many teenagers might complain about being bored during family activities, many actually enjoy these activities and remember them fondly as they grow into adulthood.
The thing about the teenage years is that although your child may act like they don’t actually need you, they have never needed you more!