5 Things Most People Don’t Know About Parenting a Teen

One Sunday afternoon, I got a call from one of my close friends Lisa. She asked, “Can we meet for a coffee? I want to discuss something very important.” She seemed distressed and softly pleaded, “Please?”

We decided to meet at 6 PM at the nearest coffee shop. She sipped her coffee and said, “Sometimes I feel like I am living with a stranger. he has completely changed – he’s very distant and very argumentative.” She was talking about her 14-year-old son. She paused for a minute and continued, “It seems like there is a glass wall between us. We can see each other but can not reach each other. Either he spends his time with his friends or he locks himself in the room, If I ask him something, he thinks of it as me interfering in his life and gets annoyed. Most of the time there is a disturbing silence between us. I am really worried. How can I reduce this distance and get my son back? I love him so much.”

Most parents will agree that raising a teenager is a challenging job. Because of profound psychological, physical, hormonal, emotional, social and academic changes, teens are always on a roller coaster of emotions. As a result, impulsiveness, mood swings, low self-esteem, cyber addiction, sleep disorders, loss of interest, aggressiveness, sadness, and isolation are very common among teenagers.

“In his book Intimate Behavior, Desmond Morris describes the normal changes that occur in a human being’s need for closeness. He suggests that each of us repeatedly goes through three stages: “Hold me tight,” “Put me down,” and “Leave me alone.” The cycle first becomes apparent in the first years of life when children move from the “hold me tight” phase characteristic of infancy to the “put me down” stage when the child first begins to explore the world, crawl, walk, and achieve some independence and autonomy from the mother. This is part of normal development and growth.

In adolescence, “leave me alone” becomes the predominant phase as the child struggles to form an individual identity. Although this may be difficult or painful for the parents, most experts recognize it as a normal and necessary phase in the transition from childhood to adulthood.” (Source: The Art of Happiness, Dalai Lama XIV, By Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho)

The teenage years are not only stressful for children but also a stressful phase for parents. It is very frustrating to deal with a constantly aggressive, angry and argumentative teen. But it is necessary that parents understand their stress and anguish.  As the child is going through these changes, parents need to understand that this transformation is a natural phenomenon and should help their teens to cope with physical, emotional, social and hormonal changes.

“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes.
Between the age of 12 and 17, a
parent ages as much as 20 years.” -Unknown

Here are the few tips which will help you to have a healthy relationship with your teenager and ensure that your teen can handle this period gracefully.

Be Your Teen’s Friend:

About teens, Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., Distinguished University Professor says, “They can’t be bullied around by power-assertive statements (“do-it-because-I-said-so”) by parents that aren’t based on any kind of logical reality.”

It is very important that parents understand that the tactics they used to handle their child will not work with their teenager. Instead of trying to control them, parents need to understand their teen’s mood swings, their confusion, their insecurities and should try to have a positive two-way conversation with them.

Now, this is the time for you to accept that your kid is growing. Try to create a healthy rapport with your child so that when he/she requires any help, they can come to you without any hesitation.

Instead of lecturing them, listen to them patiently with an open mind. Sometimes they just want to be heard so just listen to them actively without any distractions. Give them advice or opinions – but only if they ask for it.

A typical conversation with the teenager:
Parent: “Have a nice day!”
Teenager: “Don’t tell me how to live my life!”

Spend Time With them:

Since isolation is very common in teenagers, they may first hesitate to allow parents to enter in their new world. But it is necessary that during this sensitive period, parents stay connected with their teens without invading their privacy. Assure them that you are with them as a friend in every aspect of their life. 

Richard Lerner, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University says “Focus on your child’s interests and hobbies, even if you don’t understand them. You could open a new path of communication, reconnect with the child you love, and learn something new.”

It is possible that your teen’s areas of interest may not match with your current interests. It is therefore important for you to make adjustments and spend time with him/her by engaging in the activities that your teen likes. Whether it’s hiking, walking, listening to his/her favorite music, going to a restaurant, or watching his/her favorite movie/game, do it together. Remember to not start any unpleasant conversations or nagging during these hours with your child – just focus on enjoying your time together.

This is also another way to increase communication and create a healthy relationship with your teen:

As per the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University study, “Teens whose families eat dinner together at least five times per week are less likely to smoke, drink and use drugs.”

Eating meals together without any distractions like a TV or smartphones helps to create a strong family bond. This is the best time to share, talk and interact with each other. 

To learn more about the effects of internet addiction and ways to start a digital detox, check out this blog.

“When your children are teenagers,
it’s important to have a dog so that
someone in the house is happy to see you.” – Nora Ephron

Have Occasional Informative Conversations:

Due to their physical, psychological, and emotional changes, teens are very confused and have many questions. It is important that occasionally you have an informative conversation with them. You can start the conversation by asking them about their views on certain topics like teenage pregnancy, sexual harassment, etc., and then find out what they know., You can then use this opportunity to correct any misinformation and provide them resources if they want more information on a certain topic.

“Mother Nature is providential.
She gives us twelve years to
develop a love for our children
before turning them into teenagers.” – William Galvin

Respect Them:

As per the article on the wired.com, University of Pittsburgh, California-Berkeley and Harvard neuroscientists did the brain scan of teens and preteens while they are made listened to 30-second clips of their own mother criticizing them, and scans showed increased activity in areas of the brain involved with negative emotions.

Teenagers’ minds get shut off when their parents start nagging, and then parents interpret this as their teenagers not listening to them.

Independence is a key part of being a teenager. Teens have their own opinions and choices – respect them as an individual, give them responsibilities, ask for their opinions and allow them to give suggestions. Show them that you have faith in them, and allow them to take decisions. Give them freedom but make sure to mutually decide the safe boundaries of that freedom.

If they make mistakes, instead of blaming them or acting emotionally, teach them to take ownership of the outcomes of their actions. This will allow them to learn from their mistakes and help increase their self-esteem.

“I want my children to be independent
Headstrong people.
Just not while I am raising them. “ – Unknown

Pay Attention to Your Teen’s Mental Health

Studies show that teenage depression rates are increasing at a very serious rate. Approximately 20% of teenagers experience depression before reaching adulthood and suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages 15 to 24 in the US.

Mood swings are very common during the teenage years but if your teen’s unhappiness, sadness, and/or isolation last for weeks or months and is affecting his/her everyday life, there is a possibility that your teen is suffering from depression.  Other symptoms of depression may include feelings of worthlessness, guilt, fatigue, sleep disorders, eating disorders, low self-esteem, drug, and alcohol abuse, decreased interest, difficulty in concentrating, unexplained body aches, etc. Depression (also known as Major Depressive Disorder) is a serious illness but it is treatable. If you see any symptoms of depression in your teen, you must take the help of trained healthcare professionals because depression can be very dangerous if left untreated.

Note that there is no specific known cause for teenage depression. Stress, anxiety, hormonal changes, inheritance trait, bullying, academic problems, physical or sexual abuse, social anxiety, parent divorce, and financial struggles can all contribute to depression in certain teens.

If your teen is suffering from depression, talk with him/her and try to understand what they are going through. Acknowledge his/her feelings and be patient. Instead of criticizing them, be gentle and give them the assurance that you are always there to help them. It is very challenging to cope with a depressed teen but stay positive, encourage them to have a healthy lifestyle and make sure that they feel supported during this challenging period of their life.

“The louder your teen gets, the quieter you should be;
the angrier your teen becomes, the gentler you should become;
the meaner your teen behaves the kinder you should be.” – Eva Rito

Parting Thoughts…

Parenting a teen is not at all easy. It requires lots of patience and tons of positive energy. Your cute sweet obedient child has suddenly started arguing with you, responds to everything with an eye-roll, shouts and slams doors. The child who could not bear to stay away from you now has completely withdrawn from you. This is very hurtful, but that does not mean that your teen does not need your love- he/she still needs your acceptance, attention, and approval. Your child is growing, and this is the time you need to change your parenting skills. Be a role model for them and make sure that you also follow the rules and respect the family values. Instead of simply imposing rules on them, explain to them why you think that something is important. Give them some space and respect their privacy. Sometimes they will test your limits too, but stay calm, give them support, encourage them, appreciate them, and work on positive communication.

The best way to empathize with your teen’s situation is by remembering when you too were in this phase of your life. At some point in our lives, we were also in the position of an angsty teen that drove their parents crazy. Think about all the times you broke the rules or were scared of your parents before you start to judge your child for their behaviour. It also helps to think about your own parents and which of their techniques you found to be useful and which ones you do not want to repeat. Who knows? In the midst of trying to understand your child better, you might also end up appreciating your own parents a little more.

They will never show you, but they really need you. Your strong emotional bond with your teen will help them emerge int a strong, confident, caring and responsible adult.

To My Child,

I worry if you are tired and

How your day has been.

I pray that you are happy and

Surrounded by friends. A part

Of me still needs to hear these

things from you. Many days

You are busy, but a simple

“hello I’m fine” definitely will

do. You are an adult now and

have told me so, but the parent

in me can never completely let

go. As you will always be my

baby deep in my mind and

sometimes I need to hear,

 “hello I’m doing fine”

~ Jane Craft

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3 Responses

  1. palak pandya says:

    Hi.. I am mother to a teen … can completely relate to it.. thank you for identifying the problem and providing the solution for the same

  2. Alexis says:

    These are good tips you have. I think it’s important to take note of these for any parent!

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