Parenting teens and adolescents is hard. Sometimes parents find themselves wondering if it an alien has replaced their once sweet kid with a moody, irritable impostor.  It’s debatable as to whether being an adolescent or parenting one is more difficult, but either way it’s the not the easiest time in anyone’s life. In my work as a family therapist, I have seen several common issues arise between parents and teens, including unclear expectations, poor communication, and more. Check out the tips below for how to better navigate life with a teenager.

Set Clear Expectations, and Follow Through When They’re Not Met

It is appropriate and necessary to set consistent expectations for all kids, and adolescents in particular. Make sure that kids have a clear idea of what you expect from them. For instance, this may surprise you, but ‘I want this room clean’ is simply too vague. When do you want it clean by? What do they need to pick up/organize so that you will consider it clean? The same thing with good grades—do you expect A’s and B’s? All A’s? What are you looking for? When each side knows what to expect, it’s much easier for kids to complete what you’ve asked of them, and also easier for you to hold them accountable if they don’t.

That said, while it’s important to set clear guidelines, it’s also important to consider the needs and abilities of your particular teen. If you think your kid is putting in the effort overall, perhaps you don’t need to be as firm about how clean their room is, or maybe getting a B or C grade is not a big deal. Think about what your kid really needs to work on, and also what they seem capable of at this point in their development. As much as possible, try to let the rest go.

Avoid Endless Lecturing

Let’s stipulate off the bat, you know much more about the world and life than they do. Obviously. You’ve got decades on them, and you always will, having come first. You also don’t have a hormonal brain storm impacting your judgement. But while you (usually) know better, they’re still figuring things out.
If you are in the habit of lecturing your teen, they maybe take in the first minute or so of what you say; the rest is largely white noise, because they hear it from you all the time. I’ve heard parents start to go in on their kids–typically about how their current behaviors will impact their entire future)–and even I have to fight the urge to zone out. Instead of endless lecturing, make your words count. Be clear about what you expect from their behaviors, and discipline when needed. The consequences meted out for their actions communicates more than your words will.

Don’t Be Afraid to Praise

Sometimes when a child who was doing poorly in some area of their life has started to do better, parents seem somewhat afraid to praise them, nervous about the adolescent falling back into the same (or other) bad behaviors if they ‘go easy’ on them. But the message this sends to your child is that no matter what they do, it isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter if they do well or poorly, because either way, you won’t acknowledge them. If your adolescent has started to improve in some area, be sure to give them gentle encouragement. If they return to bad behaviors, you can always discipline them at that point.

Really, Mindfully, Listen to Your Kid

I have saved the best for last. This is truly the most important piece that gets lost in parenting teens. In part, because teens can put up such high walls and be difficult to engage, I’ve found that many parents struggle with recognizing their adolescents as emerging adults, with ideas and fears and a tender heart underneath all that bluster. Parents often get stuck in a pattern of seeing teenagers as they were as children, or projecting onto them a fearful vision about their approaching adulthood. But if you allow yourself to be open and hear what they have to say (meaning, hold off on lecturing), they will be far more inclined to share their concerns and experiences with you, and more likely to listen when you do provide your input.

It’s important to remember, that, for your adolescent, everything is new. It’s their first time experiencing intense and difficult emotions, and navigating tricky social situations. It’s their first real moment of trying to establish an identity and a life outside of you. Jumping in and explaining the world ad nauseam is not helpful to this process. And sure, they think they know everything, and that scares you (because you are acutely aware of how much they don’t know) but that is also a normal part of their development at this stage. A recent study demonstrated teens actually benefited the most over their younger peers from increased time spent with parents. They do need you—your love, guidance, boundaries, and support. But they also need you to acknowledge and respect the independent person they’re becoming.

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