Adolescence is a tough time for everyone—as underscored by countless films and television programs depicting the epic clashes between parent and teen child. We, who have survived it, remember, as we watch our teenagers navigate their own journey through puberty.
It is an understatement to say that parents and teens face new challenges in their relationships during the teenage years. However, that does not mean it has to be a never-ending battle from 6th grade to college. With intentionality and awareness, parents can learn to support their adolescent as they navigate the transition from child to adult and keep their sanity intact. It's important to remember that it is you and them against the problem— not you against them.
Here are some suggestions for parents who want to show support for their teen while giving them enough space to discover themselves:
1. Practice respect. Showing respect to their space, boundaries, and belongings can show them you value them and teaches them to see themselves with value as well. Teens may be needing more space and time alone to process changes, and it is important to respect that. Showing respect to other people will also communicate that you are a consistently respectful person, and they do not have to fear that your respect is conditional or unreliable. Modeling this behavior may teach them to respect others as well.
2. Encourage curiosity & exploration. Adolescence is a time of discovering one's identity and place in the world, separate from parents. Encouraging your teen to explore, without shame or judgment, can help develop their burgeoning sense of identity and their goals, ambitions, and purpose. While you might not fully understand, it is important to attempt to remain curious and open. Remember: you were once a teenager, too. What did you want from your parents? Chances are they are looking for the same thing.
3. Work on communication skills. Be direct and clear when setting rules and limitations to decrease miscommunication and confusion. Demonstrating the ability to set and enforce boundaries is an incredibly important skill your child can learn to model. Be honest and straightforward with your worries and concerns; this will help your teen understand you can talk about topics that are sensitive or stigmatized. Mindfully choose the time, place, and language you use when talking to your teen.
4. Apologize. No one is perfect. We all lose our temper, find ourselves getting frustrated, suffer from lack of sleep— the list goes on. We will make mistakes and hurt people we love. Own it. Apologize. Model good adult interactions.
5. Keep your word. If you handle bad news well, it shows them that they can trust you and feel safe coming to you with problems. As with all relationships, regardless of age, it is important to make your best efforts to follow through with agreements. If there is an instance where you cannot follow through with plans, be honest with them about reasoning.
6. Practice empathy & perspective taking. Perspective taking involves trying to put yourself in your teen's shoes and see the world from their point of view. While hearing their words, try to listen to their feelings. Even if you do not completely understand or agree, it is important not to invalidate their experience. Going back to tip #3, practice good communication skills by asking questions when you do not understand.
7. Maintain your own mental health. To be a dependable source of support for others, it is important to have support for yourself. Check-in with yourself to see if there are things that prevent you from being fully present and supportive towards your loved ones. Honor and respect your own boundaries. Take care of yourself and focus on self-compassion. Explore what coping skills and mechanisms work best for you. Remember, it is not only okay to take time to take care of yourself; it's necessary!
One final thought to remember: you have gotten them this far in life, you can do this.