So much to do…..
Parenting your teenager, supporting their mental health, and having a great relationship all at once can seem very challenging. There are so many factors and variables that contribute to all that is coming into their lives. Gone are the days when what happened and school and what happened at home were the only real things to create stressors. Now we deal with the impact of input from all over the globe via our electronic devices and around-the-clock TV streaming services. It is crucial for parents to consider many things when helping to keep and build a strong relationship with their child while at the same time shaping their teen’s mental well-being and development. The difficult thing is that the way you do this is often not going to win you the popular vote with your teen, their friends, and even with other parents. Are you ready? Put on your armor, open your arms wide to embrace your child and the challenge and remember; we are playing the long game here. Short term fixes, immediate gratification, and helping them avoid struggle are not our ultimate goals.
Provide Structure, Routine, and Boundaries
Having structure and routine to your day is good for both you and your teen. They do not fully understand the impact of sleep, relaxation, regular fueling (eating), and exercise have on their moods. They figure that out when they have crashed, and you all are in “recovery mode” from a big battle. We all know how we get there. Help them think through their schedule, their routine, the things that relax them and restore them, and how to best plan and prioritize. Once they practice these things enough, they will begin to understand how it helps decrease their stress and anxiety. As a parent, it’s important to recognize your role in this may be setting boundaries to help them achieve balance with their schedule and routine. You are teaching them. Boundaries are, often, part of finding balance and structure. Boundaries help us all feel safe and secure. We know how far we can go and when we need to stop. Consider coming to an intersection where the traffic lights are out. It is confusing, scary, and uncertain. There is much more possibility for an accident to happen. We want the lights to work to know we are safe to “go.” As much as teens push back on the limits parents set, it is what tells them they are loved and helps them to consider what is reasonable in your eyes. It may not always seem like that matters to them, but if there is respect in the relationship, it does. Be prepared for when and if they challenge the boundaries. The consistency with which we do anything is what makes the difference, and this includes how consistent we are with our follow through on consequences for boundaries that are not respected. You must be prepared to be the parent that loves them through the bad choices by setting even more limits. This is again, a teaching moment. How will they understand the way they act, even if it is just disrespect toward your request, has an impact if they never experience a consequence.
Communication: Talking AND Listening
Teens, actually, do have a lot to say. They are in the midst of sorting out a lot in their minds during these developmental years. What they say may not always sound like the “wisest” comment, but it shouldn’t. They are testing out their theories, their friends’ theories, and what they witness in the world (from all kinds of sources). What teens need is someone who is willing to listen to them and show interest without immediately challenging or problem solving. When we create an inviting environment for them, they feel safe to share what is on their mind and sort through questions and thoughts. Parents can ultimately have more impact on their teens by engaging in active listening and reflecting back, in a respectful manner, what they have heard. Again, parents are their children’s FIRST and BEST teachers if they want to be. We can, often, help them arrive at a good conclusion or solution by asking them thoughtful questions that lead to problem solving. Asking these types of questions helps increase their critical thinking as well as confidence in their abilities to problem solve. One of the things that is most beneficial with this approach is that it keeps the relationship intact because they feel heard and understood rather than lectured. They will be back to discuss more when the relationship is there as a foundation. Does this take more time than a quick answer or reply? Yes. It is intentional. It is love. It is parenting.
Now, about the relationship….
It’s everything. It will always be there if you work at it. It will be challenged, at times. It will be delightful, at times. But, if you keep it as top priority in the way you approach issues with your teen, you will find that you can manage through tough times much more easily. So here are the basics to any and all relationships. Build the trust, and you started that early on in their life. Keep it up. Work on good and effective communication (see above). And be respectful of each other. There are so many ways to communicate the things we want to say. Does the way we say something communicate love, frustration, disgust, or concern? What is your intention? What is your ultimate goal? Although our children/teens are immature and still have so much to learn, they are people, and they are worthy of being spoken to and communicated with in a respectful manner. Most of the time, they will respond to you in that same manner. And when they don’t, they will often recognize their “wrong” at some point. Work to stay emotionally regulated so you can make good choices in your response to difficult situations. Again, you are their best teacher. What do you want them to learn?
Reach out to us at 704-288-0312 if you are looking for help for your teenager or with your relationship with your teenager. Dawn Auriene, LCSW and Hannah Grady, LCSWA are experienced clinicians ready to help!