Raising teens today

Surviving the roller-coaster ride of raising teens.

The teen years can cause a great deal of worry and stress, especially for parents of teens. Most teens think bad things only happen to other people and are notorious for engaging in risky, thrill seeking behaviors. For these reasons, Michigan State University Extension’s Building Strong Adolescents program recommends establishing family boundaries to ensure the healthy development of teens. Keeping a teen safe and helping them gain independence can seem overwhelming to a parent. In a handbook called Navigating the Teen Years, from the National Youth Anti-Drug Campaign, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends some simple principles to help parents raising teens.

Tune in to your teen. Even though this is a time when you think they don’t need you as much as they did when they were little, they still need to feel connected to you and know that you are there for them. Find some time to do things together that you both enjoy. Encourage open and honest conversations. Be sure to give your teen plenty of comments on the things you see them doing right. They need to know you approve of them.

Guide your teen by setting rules and expectations. This is a critical time in your child’s life to have clear expectations and rules. Don’t assume your teen knows how you feel about drinking and using drugs. You may feel like you are stating the obvious, but they need to clearly hear your words and how you feel. The rules you establish help bring your expectations to life. They help provide teens with a safety net while they are figuring out who they are and what they can and cannot do in life. Expect some push back when enforcing rules. That is normal teenage behavior. Stay calm, listen to their reasons and give your reasons as well. Stay firm, but have some flexibility when it seems appropriate. For example, as your teen gets older and more responsible, they may have a later and later curfew.

Monitor your teen. Even teens that are well aware of the rules and expectations of their parents will sometimes break the rules. Remember when you were a teen? Did you ever bend or even break a few of your parent’s rules? Yes, it is important to trust your teen, however you also need to monitor them. This means knowing where they are, who they are with, what they are doing, and when they will be home. It includes respectfully asking questions – avoid interrogation. Insist they check in with you – and you should be checking up on them. Let them know that you will be monitoring them, so they know what to expect.

Respect your teen. Teens are just starting to develop their own set of ideals, values and expectations in life. They are craving respect and acknowledgment for their individuality. When they feel respected by their parents, they are more likely to return that respect and more likely to learn to respect themselves. This is an important protective factor for teens because a teen with little, to no self-respect is more likely to be involved in risky behaviors such as drugs, alcohol and early sexual activity. Encourage them to express their own ideas, opinions and beliefs.

Although it can be a worrisome time in parenting, many of us survived our teen years without too many bad outcomes. It can also be an exciting and proud time as you guide their journey to becoming capable, strong and interesting adults.

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