June 15, 2022
When my daughter was in ninth grade, she had very little interest in engaging with me. Sure, she was happy to start a conversation about getting her nose pierced but if I wanted to check in about anything related to school or the tennis team, forget it. She wanted to determine what the parameters were for her life: how to manage social issues, keep up with academics, and what extracurricular activities she did or didn’t do. Frankly, it was hard for me to let things go because raising teens today is challenging. With 24/7 access to screens, peers, and entertainment, it’s tough to know if they are making responsible choices, engaging wisely in activities, and staying on top of homework. For me, being responsive instead of being reactive was, and still can be, my greatest challenge. But I have to realize where my guidance ends and where her decisions about her life begin. This is the complicated dance of raising teens. You are responsible for their health, safety, and welfare and they often want more autonomy than they are actually ready for.
Instead of arguments about who is right and who needs to submit, a compromise based on collaboration is what’s called for. Regardless of their words, actions, or attitudes, most teens dislike family conflict as much as their parents do. Parenting “a successful teen” means working together on setting up expectations, goals, and strategies to foster connected independence. Everybody has a different definition of “success”: my belief is that meeting teens where they are and not where you think they should be embodies a strong, parent-child connection that sets the stage for successfully addressing any issues.
Here are some tips for parents to raise “successful teens”:
- Practice compassion for yourself and them: Everybody is doing the best they can with whatever tools and resources they have available at a given moment. The push-pull of this stage of development is confusing and challenging for all of you. When they are acting out, it’s because they lack adequate coping skills for whatever situation they’re facing. Try to recall what your adolescence was like: the awkwardness, the peer pressure, and the insecurity. This empathy makes a huge difference. Be kind to yourself and patient with them as you navigate this territory.
- Offer less advice and collaborate on goals: Teens want to feel listened to more than they want you to solve their problems. Use reflective listening so they feel heard and validated: repeat what you hear them say either exactly or with a summary. Work together on establishing goals for school, chores, and self-care. When kids participate in setting up expectations with their parents, they are far more likely to buy into whatever plan is created.
- Create consistent routines that build executive functioning skills: Aim for steadiness, not perfection. You want to teach them tools for organization, planning, prioritizing, time management, initiation, and self-care. Routines foster these skills. Use incentives instead of punishments to enhance motivation and connect the “have-to’s” to the want-to’s such as extra screen time, driving lessons with you, and going out.
- Set screen limits: Successful teens make gaming, social media, and surfing the net a part of a balanced life, not the main attraction. But they can’t do this themselves. They need your guidance. Create screen-free family times such as meals, walks, or games where you can be with each other and have fun. Remember that, despite what your teens tell you, screen time is a privilege, not something they are entitled to.
Encourage efforts not just accomplishments: Paying attention to the process of working on tasks and not just their completion encourages teens to keep trying and stick with goals. Underneath whatever bluster they present, teens want to feel like what they do matters and is acknowledged by their parents. Be specific and let them know when you observe them making efforts and persisting in spite of obstacles such as boredom, previous failures, and overwhelming emotions. Little positive comments go a long way.
You may contact Dr. Sharon Saline.