Raising a teen isn’t easy—I know this not because I have one, but because I remember all too well what it was like to be one. I was a relatively well-behaved teen and didn’t cause many issues for my parents… but those years were markedly more difficult than the years prior. I was suddenly changing in so many ways: my body, my thoughts, my mind.
And everything around me was changing too: my school, my classmates, my friends. I had no idea how to properly handle these changes, and I found it impossible to make a smooth transition into my teen years.
Fortunately, my parents were there to help me through this weird and confusing time in my life. They offered insightful guidance, backed off when I needed space, and served as positive role models—I couldn’t thank them enough for being the parents I needed them to be. But that’s not to say every child-parent relationship is pretty; in fact, some are downright unhealthy. However, Erica Bley, a licensed clinical professional counselor, is here to ensure that yours is far from unhealthy. Follow her 5 tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your teen:
1) Consider stages of development.
Bley says the first step is to remember the changes teens experience during this time in their lives: “Educate yourself about teens and their development to include body and hormone changes, the stressors they are under today, and especially understanding their brain development. There is much research about teen brains being uncovered. Understanding how your teen is physically developing will give you, as a parent, the background necessary to rationalize your own responses to their behavior, as well as keep your cool.”
2) Employ the authoritative parenting style.
Bley’s second tips is to consider the varying parenting styles, some of which are more effective than others. “The authoritative parenting style is still the most effective in most cases,” she explains. “Set boundaries in your family, but take the time to listen to your teen and consider their input. Teens who feel ignored, over-looked, or shamed seem to be the ones that rebel in the most damaging ways. All teens will push the limits—it’s part of discovering themselves and the world. What’s most important is keeping those lines of communication open and maintaining mature, emotionally-aware parenting.”
3) Be a positive role model.
“Make sure you’re also being a good example of making mature decisions yourself,” Bley says. “Teens don’t trust parents who say one thing, but do another. Believe it nor not, no matter how horrible the parent, your teen will still look up to you! The human connection to our biological relatives is fascinating. Model appropriate emotional responses, healthy behaviors, and coping mechanisms. Along with this goes modeling good use of social media. Teach your teens how to have real connections online—use it to plan and keep up with others—and then to turn it off to practice how to live in the real world.”
4) Communicate effectively.
Bley says it’s also incredibly important you to communicate effectively with your teen. “Speak positively to your teen. Do not shame them or speak in absolutes,” she says. “For example, instead of, ‘Why are you always overreacting?’ it’s better to say, ‘I’ve noticed that you’re getting angry a lot, and I’m worried about that. What can we do to help? If you’re not ready to deal with this, then please know I am open to talking about it and helping you figure it out. Then follow up with boundaries for anger. It’s not going to be okay for your teen to get angry and steal the family car. But it would be okay for them to go for a walk in the neighborhood to cool off, then ask for the car nicely and share with you where he or she is going.”
5) Get to know your teen.
Bley’s fifth and final tip is to really get to know your teen; take the time to talk with them and really understand what they want, what they need, even what they’re interested in: “Lastly, teens need to be seen. In fact, we all do. Especially in today’s world with so much technology, it is easy to go about our lives without really knowing each other—our true talents, capabilities, dreams, and fears. Don’t just look at your teen, make sure you really see them and make sure they know it.”