Independence. That’s what the teen years are all about. And that’s exactly what scares parents the most. Teens start pulling away, expressing different opinions and experimenting with various looks and behaviors. For parents, now more than ever, it’s important to stay connected with your teen.
“While activities at school, new interests and a growing social life become more important to teens, parents are still the anchors who provide love, guidance and security,” said Therese Sirles, R.N., child advocate.
Try not to take it personally when your teen acts as if your support isn’t welcome, and his or her bedroom door is shut more often. Rest assured, you’re still a powerful influence. Modeling the qualities you want your teen to learn and practice — respectful communication, kindness, healthy eating and taking care of responsibilities without complaining — is vital during this time.
Choose your battles
If your teen wants to dye his hair, paint her fingernails black or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents, and it’s a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; leave the objections to things that really matter, such as drugs and alcohol or permanent changes in their appearance. “The teen years often are a time of experimentation and risky behaviors,” said Richard A. Boada, M.D., pediatrician.
“Don’t avoid talking about sex, alcohol, drugs and other uncomfortable topics; discussing these things before your teen is exposed to them increases the chance he or she will act responsibly.”
Your teen may act unhappy with your expectations, but most teens understand it’s because their parents care enough about them to expect good grades, acceptable behavior and adherence to rules.
“If parents have appropriate expectations, more often than not the teen will try to meet them,” Dr. Boada said. “Without reasonable expectations, your teen may feel you don’t care.”
The Internet is a vast source of information — some good and some bad. If your teen learns to use it wisely, he or she can stay safe. Place the family computer in a common area, not in the teen’s bedroom, so you can keep an eye on both the computer and your child.
Encourage your teen to follow simple precautions like never disclosing private information, such as address, phone number, school name and credit card numbers; and never agreeing to meet someone in person whom your teen met online. Parental controls and filtering software also can help you protect your teen from online predators and inappropriate content.
The more you know, the better you can cope with the teen years. And the more you know, the better you can prepare. Both you and your teen can get through it — together!