Parenting Teens - Where Did My Child Go?
Most parents are surprised when they discover that the way they parented so successfully when the kids were younger does not work when the kids become teens. It is like they became different people. You may have had one of those bumper stickers that said, “Do You Know WHERE Your Kids Are?” and have to change it now to say, “Do You Know WHO Your Kids Are?”
Let this be the year you discover why teens are so different and what it takes to effectively parent them. This article can be your first step by bringing together some things to think about.
1. Change your approach.
When your children were younger you needed to explain why they should not do certain things and usually the kids accept what you tell them. That hardly ever works with teens.
Teens are realizing they are not you and they need to discover who they are without you telling them. This is called individuation by psychologists, rebellion by most parents. So they are going to try new behaviors, some of which they know you might not like. So when you try to tell them what they are doing wrong they will just ignore you. Instead change your approach to one of discovering your new teen with them. Observe what they are doing and let them know what you see without judging them. This will be difficult because you want to make sure they do all the right things. Unfortunately you no longer have that power, and trying to keep the power will only lead to power struggles that will lead to resentment and broken relationship.
I am not promoting permissiveness, letting your teens do what they want. Instead I am advocating giving them freedom within limits to learn who they are. Determining what these limits are may be difficult, but it is necessary to keep you teens respect during these difficult years.
2. Commit yourself to learning what the issues are for your teen.
Because they are different than they were when you were a teen. When you listen for these issues be sure to listen to understand and not pass judgment. Become a sounding board for your teen. Find out what strategizes they are choosing and why they choose them. Unless their strategies are harmful (involve drugs, sex, or are illegal) seek to give them room to test their strategies and them follow-up to find out how it worked.
Giving your teens freedom to experiment with different styles of adulthood will let them know you trust them, making it less likely they will do something dangerous. Freedom without judgment also opens the lines of communication with your teen as they traverse this difficult time, giving you a voice that you might otherwise lose.
With children you needed to do "to" or "for" them. This all changes when you child becomes a teen. Now you must transition to doing "with" them. Join your teen in traversing this period and let them come out of it discovering who they are and how they want to communicate themselves to the world.
Larry McElvain, Founder, Discovery Counseling Center
November 2, 2020