You’ve watched your child as she slept in her crib peacefully, nursed her back to health when she had the sniffles, and held her tiny hand when you brought her to school for the first day of kindergarten. You watched your son play in every Little League baseball game, cleaned his grimy hands and bandaged cuts on his knees after he built a fort, and watched him get on the school bus (from afar, since he would have turned a crimson color all the way to his ears if any of his friends actually saw you).
Whether you have years to go or are ready to embark on a trip through the teenage years, you may have heard people who’ve been there say, “You better buckle up your seatbelt, and get ready for the ride.” With that in mind, you may be filled with apprehension when you think of the trials and tribulations that come with teenagers. When your son or daughter has one foot in childhood and the other ready for the teen years, you may feel it would be nice to turn back the clock.
If you remember what it’s like to be a teen, you probably thought that nobody—not even or, especially, not your parents—understood you. The art of parenting is difficult to master, and being the parent of a teenager can sometimes be tough. In fact, psychologist G. Stanley Hall, who is frequently regarded as the founder of child psychology, described this period as “storm and stress.”
Before your child is a teenager, it’s important he has a smooth and healthy transition to the distinct individual he’ll become. As a parent or caregiver, you should prepare your child for the teen years with the right approaches to be effective—and identify those approaches that can backfire. The following are things you can do before your child becomes a full-fledged teenager.
1) Have dinner at the table together as much as possible—and without technology.
Eating dinner at the table without the distraction of technology gives the family the chance to bond over food, laugh, discuss the day and be comfortable opening up to each other. Eating together helps to promote healthy relationships, as well as have some face time to be able to connect.
2) Stop cursing.
This is a habit that you should stop before becoming a parent or avoid when the kids are around. If you curse at home, it becomes a lot easier for your teen to use it at school and with friends.
3) Buckle up the seatbelt each time.
Your child imitates your behaviors, and if you want your teenager to buckle the seatbelt when he gets in the car with a new license—and with friends who just received their licenses—you need to get in the habit of buckling up every time.
4) Put your phone away while in the driver’s seat.
With so many dangers of texting and talking on the phone while driving, you should put the phone away when driving. You want to make sure your child does the same thing when driving.
5) Ask open-ended questions and listen.
Asking your child closed questions will almost automatically be answered with a one-word answer. By asking open-ended questions, communication increases and you have the opportunity to listen as your child speaks. It’s important that your child speaks openly, and listening attentively is even more important as he ages and has more to talk about.
6) Get to know your child’s friends.
Make sure your child is hanging out with kids who are a positive influence. Get to know the kids by having them over as they grow up. In the case that you don’t know many of the kids your child talks about, make a point to invite them over and spend time with them.
7) Follow social media activity.
Be sure to make rules, figure out a monitoring system and limit the time on technology when you first give your child a phone or tablet, as well as if they are allowed on Instagram or Facebook. Following your child on social media with the understanding that everything he does is visible to you will hopefully help him make smart decisions online. In addition, it may encourage your child to speak with you if something is going on, such as cyberbullying.
8) Share in your child’s interests.
Whether it’s a love of art, music or video games, listen when your child discusses it. When you show interest, it will help him to feel safe communicating with you. That is a big plus, since you will know what your child is up to, and it enables you to be involved in the small parts of his life.
9) Do something together.
Find something you both enjoy, such as shopping, watching a favorite television show, visiting art museums and playing sports. This common interest will allow you to spend time together.
10) Everybody makes mistakes.
How you handle your child’s failures is critical as he grows. When you present mistakes as learning experiences and not something shameful, it is important. Words of encouragement and support will empower your child as he grows up. Your guidance and reassurance will provide a boost in the teen years when decision-making skills and self-esteem are particularly important.
11) Take a time-out to talk about the day.
Before the hustle and bustle of high school, get into the habit of talking with each other daily. Whether it’s face-to-face, text or email, make the effort and be consistent.
12) Physical contact is important.
Keep physical contact up as your child grows, whether it’s a hug or a pat on the back. Psychotherapist Virginia Satir, the “Mother of Family Therapy,” stressed that people need four hugs a day for survival, eight a day for maintenance and 12 a day for growth.
13) Tuck them in for the night.
Since kids like to stay up a little bit later, this is an ideal time to ask your child about the day. In addition, children’s bad choices are more obvious at night. You may find a cell phone or snacks have been brought to bed. When children think their parents are “off” for the night, they can get in trouble, such as sneaking out of the house. By tucking them in, children know you are always there.
14) Become educated about your child’s changes.
Learn about your child’s biological and psychological changes during the different stages of life. It will help you to understand your child’s needs, and you’ll be able to teach him about them. Children are increasingly aware of how others, especially their friends, see them and are trying to fit in. Friends often become more important than parents when making decisions. So, when your child tries on different looks and identities and is unaware of how he differs from friends, it can cause episodes of distress and conflict with parents.
15) Restrictions of viewing content on television/internet.
Make sure to monitor your child’s television and internet viewing, and make a rule that access is limited and not to be in private.
16) Set the rules.
Make a rule that bedtime is set and consistent, and ensure your child follows it.
Reasonable expectations let your child know you care.
18) Support them.
If your child has an idea, don’t dismiss it or convey negative points. Your child can become discouraged and lose confidence. Provide support for appropriate things.