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Living with your Teenager

Giving information

Adolescents are going through changes that are not only confusing, but can be frightening as well. They are at a time in their lives when they are no longer a child totally dependent on their parents, but they cannot be totally independent either. Teens want freedom, but they also need boundaries. They may be pressured by parents, friends and the school system to decide what they want to be “when they grow up.” Many times, they just don’t know.

Parents of teenagers may feel as if a stranger has taken over the body of the loving child they once knew. The child still looks the same, but the actions and words that come from that body just doesn’t seem at all like their child. They just do not know how to handle this new person their child has become. The parents of teens may forget how their feelings and emotions were a constant roller coaster at that age.

There are some tips and strategies to make life with a teenager less painful and help parents (and teens) keep their sanity during this challenging time.

Communication

Keeping the lines of communication open is one of the best ways to get through the difficult teen years. Teens do not like to be talked to or at. To the teen, they are just being told what they are doing wrong or what to do, rather than the parent taking time to listen to what they say. They would much rather be talked with. Talking with the teen involves listening as well as talking. The biggest complaint from parents and teens is, “They never listen to me!” It takes a conscious effort to actually listen to what the other person is saying. Parents need to listen not only with their heads, but with their hearts. If parents of teens can imagine themselves as the teen, talking with them instead of to them might come easier.

Remain the adult at all times

Parents of teens may become just as confused as the teen. One minute their teen behaves much like an adult, and the next minute they are behaving like a child again. This can be frustrating to parents. Remember teens are going through many changes at this age. They can feel they are “stuck in the middle,” not a child yet not an adult. This may cause erratic behavior and sometimes test a parent’s patience. Keep in mind, the parent is the adult and the parent must remain mature at all times. If the parent loses their temper and yells and screams at the teenager, they are showing some of the same behavior as the teen. The nature of most parents is to try to assert their authority to make the teen obey. This is not always the best solution to a problem. Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away
and let the teen have some space.

Have clear and consistent rules

Teens, the same as younger children, need clear rules. The parent and teen can work together to establish rules that are acceptable to both parties. The rules can change to fit the age of the teen and these changes should be worked out as the need arises, but don’t change the rules without letting the child know. Even though the teen may think and say they don’t want any rules, they really do need boundaries. Having rules can help them say “no” to peer pressure. They can always blame their
parents for not being allowed to do something. This also can help the teen to save face with their friends. Parents reserve the right to limit some actions, and teens will test rules and their parents. The parents should not be afraid to insist on behavior they want from the teen as long as they have clearly communicated what is expected.

Keep calm

Overreacting to a teen’s behavior does nothing but put stress on the teen and parent. Responding to a minor misbehavior by giving the teen severe punishment does not help with a teens’ self-control and sometimes may even cause the teen to rebel more. Teens are going to rebel to a certain
extent; this is a normal part of growing up. They are trying to establish their independence from their parents. It is hard for parents not to overreact, but keeping the lines of communication open is a better way to handle most situations. Of course, if a parent sees their teen is taking part in risky behaviors, intervention is necessary.

Give them love and support

Teens need love and support from parents; they can be moody, self-centered and very critical of others, especially their parents. Teens sometimes feel that no one loves them. The parent should ensure that their teen knows they are loved and appreciated for who they are, not who the parent thinks they should be. Even when the teen makes a mistake, big or small, the parent must let them know they love them and always support them. Parents need to discuss the mistake with the teen
and explore ways to avoid this type of behavior in the future. Placing blame rarely helps the child to learn from their mistakes. They know they have messed up and they just need to hear they are still loved and the parent is there to support them and guide them so it won’t happen again.

The parent of a teen does not have an easy job. Just like the “terrible twos,” this too shall pass. Before you know it, the teenager who caused many sleepless nights will be grown up and out of the house. Every stage of a child’s development can be trying, but when the child is grown, all of the hard times will be forgotten. Enjoy that teen, because those years won’t last forever.

Reference: Jacobson, DonnaRae, Family Science Specialist, NDSU Extension; July 1995

For more information: Contact Patty Morrison, M.A., WVU Extension Service, Families and Health
Agent – Wirt County at Patty.Morrison@mail.wvu.edu or www.ext.wvu.edu