4 Tips for Understanding and Navigating the Teen Years
Parenting teens isn’t always easy.
Here at Defend Innocence, we get to hear a lot about the challenges that parents face. Here’s a story that John, father of seven, shared with us.
When my daughter was just a bug, her buoyancy and brightness lit up our lives like a disco ball. She both sparkled and loved all things sparkly. Ironically, and to our delight, she couldn’t pronounce “sparkles.” Instead, this word endearingly came out, “par-sa-lickies.”
As this little lady grew, there were moments of stubbornness (picture Sunday dresses over pajamas), and more than once she heard me say, “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I don’t understand you because I don’t speak Whinese.” But, for the most part, she was sunshine.
This child is now a teenager, and there are moments when the adorable inexplicably becomes deplorable—a dumbfounding teenage transformation leaving her nearly unrecognizable. We recently experienced this as she protested holiday travel plans with a demeanor and words that were less than sparkly, leaving us to wonder, “Who is this child and where have all the par-sa-lickies gone?”
When children become teenagers, parents can feel like they’re living with strangers. As a parent, you might become frustrated watching your teen say and do things that feel totally contradictory to what you’ve taught them. Sexual behavior can become an especially sensitive topic. You might have strong opinions about sexuality, and your teen’s views could start to become different from your own. Here are four things to think about when it comes to interacting with your teen.
Consider the reasons for your teen’s behavior.
On the surface, it might seem like your teen is rebelling against you personally. The reality is that they are probably working to establish their independence and identity. They’re on the path to becoming an adult, and they want to be seen as an individual.
Preserve open communication.
If you strongly disapprove of your teen’s actions, you might want to lash out and express your anger and disappointment. But interacting like this will probably shut down all communication. You can’t offer your perspective on things if you’ve alienated your teen. Express expectations and consequences for actions and behaviors, but resist the urge to judge or tell teens they can’t do something.
Keep having conversations about sex.
Teens get lots of mixed messages about sex from lots of sources—peers, social media, movies. They need guidance from you. Revisit and reinforce your family values, but also be realistic about your teen’s sexual behavior. Check out some of our other blogs for ideas of specific things you can talk about with tweens, younger teens, and older teens.
Let teens make choices.
Part of developing into an adult involves making your own decisions and then accepting the consequences. This is a skill you can work to develop in your teen. Parents sometimes feel like they need to control their teens, but it’s probably more productive to help your teens learn how to exercise self-control. You definitely still want to be there to protect and guide, but acknowledge that your teen is ultimately going to make their own decisions.
As a parent, giving up control is hard. You want to do everything you can to defend your child from bad decisions. But rather than crushing your teen’s independence, help them navigate the treacherous waters of being young so that they develop into mature, responsible adults. You’ll both be happy that you did.