Ten Essential Tips for Parenting Teenagers
First – it’s true. The teenage years are the most difficult years of a parent’s life. Perhaps not immediately, but when you stop and look at the stages you can expect to observe in your child’s life, you quickly realize your friendly 14-year-old son may not even be speaking to you in another year or so. And not out of any particular conflict you may have caused, either.
A Danish psychologist named Erick Erickson is credited with first observing and documenting recognizable stages of normal social development in a child’s life. These are the essential issues he observed children dealing with, from birth to age 19:
|Age Period||Issues at Stake|
|0 – 1||Trust vs. Mistrust – the child is preoccupied with his basic needs being met|
|2 – 3||Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt – the child explores the world around him and experiments with handling the world on his own|
|4 – 6||Initiative versus Guilt – the child deals with autonomy, often through risk-taking, independent behaviors|
|7 – 12||Industry versus Inferiority – the child becomes aware of himself as an individual and begins to form moral values. Recognition through task completion becomes important.|
|13 – 19||Identity versus Role Confusion – for the first time, the child’s main concern is how they appear to others. Development of sexual identity. “Who am I?” is the main concern. Bridge between childhood and adulthood. Reconciling societal and parental expectations with self analysis. Choosing personal ideologies and moral values|
If you’ve ever experienced the phenomenon of a child’s teenage years that seem to start out with remarkable harmony and communication, only to shift seemingly overnight into silence, withdrawal and discord, what you have most likely run into is the shift into sexual identity that occurs some time during this long period of social development.
This is a very difficult time for many teens. They need to be free to explore society and relationships, and figure out their own beliefs, morals and values. At this time, parental beliefs, morals and values are subjected to merciless and critical scrutiny. Depending on how well a parent has helped his or her child through earlier stages, the ride may become bumpy to perilous as a child accepts or rejects everything you have taught him.
Setting Your Child Up For His Teens
If you have not done an adequate job of helping your child learn to get a handle on his age-appropriate issues, here is where you will reap the consequences rather than the rewards. But even if you have unselfishly done everything you can to gently encourage your child through each stage and tip him towards the positive side of each age issue, his crucial search for identity and solidifying his beliefs alone will be a confusing and anxious period for him.
This is one rarely-understood reason why children seem to prefer the company of and communication with peers, rather than their parents. It’s easier to talk to someone who is thinking the way you do, feeling the things you feel and coping with the same pressures – the people you have to measure yourself against for life – rather than choosing to talk to people who may, at this point, seem out of touch and obsolete.
The balance does shift back again when a child reaches their twenties, but a truly close relationship may not develop naturally again until closer to your child’s thirties – depending on the choices they make and how you have handled parenthood.
Understanding The Natural Order of Parenting
All this is normal. In nature, the deep, inborn instinct is for animal parents to be highly protective of their young – that much we share with the animal kingdom. As the baby animal or bird grows, however, parents begin to push it as quickly as possible towards independence and self-reliance, ruthlessly severing ties when the young animal barely reaches maturity. They instinctively know that their baby’s very survival depends on this self-reliance and independence being learned as rapidly as possible.
We are the only species who regularly attempts to keep our children attached for life by an invisible umbilical cord. However, the paradoxical truth is… the more self-reliant and independent we help our teenager become, the more he will stay bonded to us as an adult – not in a needy, dependent or immature way, but in a bond created of love, friendship and mutual respect.
In other words, the old hippie adage of the 1970’s is actually true: “If you love something, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever.”
Of course, this cutting of the psychological umbilical chord has to be done wisely. It doesn’t mean suddenly letting your teen do whatever he wants or booting him out the door. It means honoring each stage and helping your child learn each stage’s pivotal lesson – including fully experiencing the teenage years, where you gently give your child a careful balance of security and space: The security of solid family values and a safety net he can return to and depend on at any time… and the space to explore how he fits into society and who he is meant to be as a spiritual, sexual and aware human adult.
Here are some tips for creating a healthy, lasting bond with your child – one that will survive the turbulent teens and provide you both with a lifetime of love, respect and enjoyment…
10 Tips on Becoming a Superparent
1. Be consistent. This tops the list in helping your teen sort out confusing teen issues and develop solid values. Be consistent in your values, morals and expectations – and follow through on promises and disciplinary decisions
2. Create and share experiences. The Play Station III may be what your teenage son thinks he wants right now – but positive experiences and adventures you share together are what will nourish him for a lifetime. All the presents in the world won’t compensate a child for your absence, emotional or otherwise, during his formative years.
3. Teach him with love. Sharing your skills with your child is a great way to further strengthen your bond – but make sure you allow him to “own” whatever you’re teaching. Don’t compete, and resist the urge to show him you can do it better (remember, it’s his confidence you are trying to build, not undermine!)
4. Model charity. Children who see only self-absorption will become self-absorbed. Teach him there’s a bigger world out there by your behavior and actions. Carry your elderly neighbour’s groceries in for her. Get your child involved in charitable causes – even if it’s just allowing them to observe your involvement. Speak up for what is right and care about those who are too defeated and despairing to care about themselves.
5. Don’t Judge. Children who hear nothing but criticism – even if it’s about other people – will become critical themselves. They will not know how to truly love and accept other people. Criticism leads to shallowness and an emphasis on externals, rather than deeper principles.
6. Don’t play the “Blame–and-Shame” Game. It’s surprising how many parents who actively use an impartial problem-solving focus at work will switch to “blame and shame” at home, when dealing with your children. Blaming and shaming will gift your children with nothing but a head and heart full of guilt, leading to defensiveness, evasion, lying and resentment. Instead, focus on the problem, not the perpetrator. Ask your child: “Now. How can we fix this?”
7. Listen. True listening is an art. It doesn’t mean muttering: “That’s nice, dear…” when your daughter tells you her heart has just been broken. Listening tells a child he is important enough for you to give him your whole attention. Show you are listening by asking thoughtful, considered questions. Let him speak. In fact, create opportunities for you to be together in a situation that promotes communication. Listen, acknowledge, question and validate.
8. Teach the law of consequences. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to protect your child from the consequences of his own actions. Allowing a child to be accountable for his behavior and deal with the consequences will teach him the lessons you want him to learn more quickly than anything else in life. Parents who shelter their children from consequences are rarely ever thanked and usually blamed later in life!
9. Love each other. If you are part of a parental unit, treat each other with respect and don’t be afraid to show affection. Have time for each other. And respect yourselves. Let your child see everything you want him to be, when he is old enough to separate and bond with another human being. Remember, he will learn from what is modeled – not what is never observed. A daughter will not learn self-confidence if her mother is a “pleaser” who constantly sublimates her own needs. A son will not learn wisdom and warmth from a father who never has time for his own family.
10. Pay Attention! Pay attention not only to your child, but to your own speech, actions and behavior. Often the pivotal moment that sends a child firmly down one path for life stems from careless parental comments, or inconsistencies in speech and behavior observed by a child. Children observe more than you might think – and in teenage years, your past actions and speech will be melted in a crucible of merciless clarity as your child evaluates your example.
Parenting an animal is a relatively simple task, solely about survival on its most basic level – avoid the predators and find food and a mate.
Parenting a human being from birth to adulthood is an astonishingly complex job. You have to teach him intangibles such as values, morality, handling emotion, interacting positively with people and how to make wise life choices.
The rewards are greater than we can ever imagine, when we suddenly realize at the end of the long and complicated teen years that we have produced a caring, ethical human being who can really make a difference in people’s lives – just as we have made a difference in his.