Parenting a teenager made easier

Yes, being the parent of a teenager can be made “easier,” but sorry, it’s probably never going to be “easy.” The teenage years are a difficult time in the life of a young person, and unfortunately, it usually makes for a difficult time in the life of the parents.

Teens don’t consciously mean to be non-communicative, withdrawn and perhaps even hostile when it comes to a relationship with parents. In reality, teens are more often confused, scared and simply unsure of themselves. Instead of wanting to let others, especially those in charge, see those “weaknesses,” the defense mechanism is to try and keep as much information as possible from the parental units.

What makes the teen years so difficult are the personal changes and situations facing children. School is probably more challenging than it was a few years before. At the same time, the teen is dealing with a body that is maturing, hormonal changes and increased pressure about unknown life changes like college or a career.

Meanwhile, the parent’s role is as the authority figure, setting rules and limits. The result is teens are more likely to talk and share feelings with friends than with their parents. Why? Friends are usually less critical, less judgmental and more likely facing the same issues. And friends don’t try to parent, but you do.

The cure isn’t to give up the parenting role, but simply to soften it a bit. Invest some time in the things that interest the teen — friends, food, television, video games and other favorite activities. Encourage the teen to invite friends to the house and spend some time listening to their child’s favorite music. The goal isn’t to like any of the teen’s choices, but rather to demonstrate that the parent understands and respects the teen’s decisions.

Teen parenting frustration can also be lessened by simply offering communication opportunities. Be available to the teen, learn to ask questions and really listen non-critically to any responses. Don’t immediately offer advice or criticism. Giving an opinion or suggestion without being asked is a sure-fire way to shut down communication.

The goal is for the teen to see the parent not just as a parent, but also as someone who respects them and as someone who is willing to listen without giving instant advice or judgments. Achieve that and the teenage years may indeed seem easier, at least from the parent’s side.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions can be sent to ACAcorner@counseling.org, or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.

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