One of the most difficult parenting tasks, according to parents who are willing to share, is knowing how to handle teenagers. They are still children, needing guidance and boundaries, yet are yearning for more freedom and independence. It is a delicate balance for parents and teens, and a potentially rewarding relationship if handled effectively.
If you take a moment to consider what you would like your adolescent to become, you will likely come up with adjectives like respectful, driven, compassionate, responsible, etc. But, what if you take it further than descriptors of their behavior to character traits developed in response to the parenting that they receive. For example, a teen will typically go in one of three directions: A replica of their parents, a rebel who strives to be the opposite of their parents, or a responsible young adult who makes sound decisions and thinks for him/herself.
What is interesting to keep in mind, is that parents who work diligently to encourage the “replica” teen often produce the “rebel” teen. Attempts at complete control by forcing values on your adolescent will be met with resistance, withdrawal and frustration. Children need opportunities to learn how to make their own choices and learn consequences of their decisions. This not only creates responsibility but also allows children to practice self-awareness. You can read more about Choice Giving in a previous article here.
So, aside from providing a teen with age-appropriate choices, what else can be done to foster well-adjusted, contented adolescents? Here are my top five recommendations:
1. Set an example. Demonstrate the types of behaviors that you wish to develop in your teen. The more clearly you express the values you choose to live by, the more your teen will understand and absorb those same values.
2. Teach household skills. If a child has never learned how to manage common tasks, such as laundry, dishes, cooking, yardwork and the like, they are likely to fail when they truly gain independence. Even when teens resist chores and tasks to help around the home, they are learning valuable lessons about being an adult. This fosters a better sense of capability and accomplishment in adolescents.
3. Teach social skills. How well a teen gets along with others is often an indicator of behavior. If your adolescent learns to show respect, resolve conflicts calmly, settle arguments peacefully and demonstrate concern for others, they are more likely to maintain appropriate work, friendship and family relationships in adulthood. These skills are effective when modeled by parents and other adults.
4. Teach financial skills. Explaining to a teen about avoiding debt, maintaining a budget, and honing marketable skills is extremely valuable to an adolescent’s sense of self-worth and competence. This includes differentiating between wants and needs, saving up for big purchases and implementing a system that is easy to use and that works for money management. You can read other thoughts about teaching your kids the value of a dollar here.
5. Keep communication lines open. Nothing ruins parents’ best laid plans like a break in communication between parents and children. A weekly commitment to one on one time with your pre-teen or adolescent, even if only for 20 minutes, can set the stage for sharing, learning and understanding each other. Teens love to talk about themselves, so make it a point to give them time to share what they are interested in, what they are learning, why their best friend is their best friend, etc. This weekly “diary dump” will likely lead to more detailed and deep discussions when something important arises. This also builds the trust and respect you need as a parent to encourage teens to develop into a person to whom you are both equally agreeable.