The rebellious teenage years. Your parents #MadeItWork so can you.
It seems that the main task of pre-teen or teenage sons or daughters is to free themselves from their parents as much as they can. It’s a step they need to take to cross that bridge between childhood and becoming a young adult. For that to happen they feel they need to leave behind all things that used to bond them with mommy and daddy. According to specialists this transition comes with a good dosage of rebelliousness, confusion, restlessness, doubts, attitudes, mood swings, etc… The emotions are normally over the top. And, just like when he or she entered those infamous terrible two’s, this new teenage behavior can last a good couple of years (but don’t be surprise if it extends for longer, let’s say, the whole “teen” years).
So what can you do to smooth the bruises that those teenage years can leave in your relationship with your son/daughter?
Here are some psychologists’ tips that may help.
1.Treat him/her as a young adult friend.
When your son/daughter turns twelve start working on establishing the relationship you want to have with him/her when (s)he’s becomes an adult. Treat him/her with the same respect you would expect from a young adult and expect the same in return. Mutual respect, support and having fun together should be among the main goals of your relationship.
Try having informal long conversations about various topics. Go for a walk or a bike ride or some other activity and talk as if you’re talking to a younger friend. Your son/daughter still looks up to you but won’t buy anything you preach as a father anymore so try to have conversations, dialogues, instead of lectures.
Here is a tough one. Recognize and sympathize with your son’s/daughter’s feeling without criticizing or judging them. You can make comments but remember that listening doesn’t necessary include solving the problem for them, or worse, telling them what to do.
2. Avoid criticism in situations where there won’t be a “winner”
Many problems between parents and teenagers happen because of criticism. Parents need to remember that almost every new behavior from their teenagers that they disapprove is nothing but an attempt to fit in with their group of friends. Being part of a group of friends is very important step in their development. Their clothing, hair style, slangs, music, bedroom decor, makeup, political view, religion, etc… are all part of this new discoveries they’re trying to make about themselves. Once again remember that the more you criticize the taller the wall between you two will be.
Obviously keep an eye open for extremes such as symptoms of alcohol or drug use, promiscuity, criminal behavior, etc.
3. Let the social rules and consequences teach your teenager a few lessons outside the house
No parent wants to see their child in trouble. But over protecting your teenager will only sugarcoat the outside world for him and we all know the “real world” is not made of cotton candy. Let your teenager experiment life. If he/she has a job or is part of a social group or a sports team or just goes to school let the boss, group leader, the coach or teacher do his part in educating your teenager in real life situations and consequences. Do not interfere. Do not “save” your child from breaking a rule in his social activities out of the house. You need to remember that once they turn eighteen or when they leave your house they will have to face and deal with lots of ups and downs of life without you being there all the time so let them “practice”.
When it comes to friendships it’s a touchy subject. You want to make sure you’re giving your teenager the freedom to choose his/her friends but you still want to be able to keep them safe and away from drugs, alcohol, risky sexual behavior, criminal activities, etc. This is when those conversations over a cup of coffee at your (or his) favorite coffee shop are for. Try touching the subject in a light but serious way. I personally would tell him/her that it would be really heartbreaking to see my best friend in jail, in a hospital bed or dead because someone else convinced him/her to do something dangerous. I would never forgive myself for letting this happen to a friend.
Hopefully your teenager will ask you for some advice regarding his/her outside the house activities. If that’s the case try describing the pros and cons of the situation. Be brief and impartial. Ask him/her questions that will bring up the risks and the consequences. Then you can wrap it up by saying “you should do what’s you think is the right choice for you”.
4. Make sure that the rules of the house are clear and the consequences too.
It’s your right and responsibility as a parent to set the rules regarding your home and the consequences from breaking those rules. Your teenager’s personal preference can be tolerated in his bedroom as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rest of the house. Remind your teen that (s)he can do anything as long as it’s not a problem for someone else. For example they should be able to listen to their music in the living room’s like anyone else but the volume level needs to be acceptable for everyone else.
You can also limit phone calls and friends visits. Also make sure you make some basic rules for parties and areas where your teenager and his/her friends can eat. Clean up themselves should be among those rules.
You already respecting your teenager his/her personal space by letting him/her decorate the bedroom with his/her own style but you, as a parent, have the right to to ask the room to be cleaned with a certain frequency for health reasons, do his/her own laundry, maintain good personal hygiene.
If the rules are not being followed don’t preach, just apply the consequences. Taking away the phone or the laptop or the car keys. Removing the right to have friends over or to go to friends’ house. These are all acceptable punishments for a teenager. Sending him/her to his/her bedroom is not effective as it only creates more distance between you two. Never even think about physical punishment because that would simply represent the end of the trust and a healthy father/teenager relationship.
5. Make decisions as a family
You see your teenager spending more and more time with his/her friends and less and less interested in doing things with the whole family. This is normal and it doesn’t mean that (s)he can’t participate in the family unit. Ask during dinner when would be a good day for a little family meeting that week and ask if anybody has anything they want to add to the agenda. The meeting can be about a situation at home, the next family trip, plans for the holidays… it doesn’t matter, as long as everybody has a chance to be heard and participate in the final decision. If there’s an issue it’s always good to say things like “it’s nobody’s fault but we need to figure out together a solution for this problem. How can we solve it?”.
6. Don’t bother your teenager when (s)he’s on a bad mood
Most of the time when your teenager is in a bad mood (s)he won’t open up to you. When teenagers want to talk about a problem they normally look for a close friend or they post something on Facebook and wait for sympathy from their peers (not you). Even if you have the best of intentions the best thing you can do is leave him/her alone and respect their timing. If they feel they need help from you they’ll come to you.
7. Don’t engage in screaming battles
It’s normal to have teenagers bang doors or talk back or yell at their parents when they’re angry. They feel they need to be loud and rude in order to be heard. The feel the need to be defiant and make sure everybody knows how they feel. If you are in the middle of an outrage the first thing to do is stay calm. Think about your safety and the safety of your teenager first. Let him/her vent out all the frustration even if it includes cursing and screaming. If you feel that you’re losing your temper walk away and let him/her deescalate by himself. Do not engage in a screaming, yelling battle if your teenager. It won’t work. One thing is for sure, once they reach that level of frustration they will eventually calm down. Then that’s a good time to let him/her know that it’s hurtful when he calls you names and that this is not the way to talk to each other. Let him/her know that you understand his frustration but his reaction was unacceptable.
By now you may be thinking that I’m crazy to give you all these permissive tips when I don’t even have a teenager to deal with yet. It’s true but I was one and I wasn’t very easy to deal with, my brother and sister are much younger than so I pretty much saw how their teen experience was, and I’ve been working with teenagers or pre-teens for quite some time. Also these tips are not just something I made up. I searched some websites and compiled some stuff I thought made sense.
You should see a specialist:
- If you feel your teenager is deeply depressed, talks about suicide or tries to commit suicide, drinks or use drugs, or wants to run away.
- If your son/daughter doesn’t have close friends.
- If his/her school performance drops significantly.
- If (s)he’s not showing up to school.
- If your teenager has destructive or violent outbursts.
- If your teenager’s behavior is causing problems for your relationship with other family members.
- If even after you tried some of all of these tips you don’t see any improvement in a period of 6 months.
I currently work with emotionally distressed pre-teens at a junior high and I have been learning even more about this confusing period of our lives. If you have questions, suggestions or just want to disagree with something use the comments section bellow or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.