Making The Transition From Child To Teen:
You managed to survive the tantrums of your two-year old. You stayed sane during those colicky months. So why are the teen years so daunting for parents?
Partially it has to do with the hormonal and behavioral changes of your child, and partially it's been engrained in us as parents that the teen years will be a nightmare. Horror stories of teens are thrown around whenever you attempt to explain that the reason you spilled a pot of boiling coffee on your hand -WITHOUT NOTICING - is because you've been up for four weeks straight with a sick baby.
So before hitting the teen years, before you decide they will be hell, remind yourself that your child is an individual and he or she may not live up to the expectation that teens are nightmares to be around.
We can get through this together. Take my hand and let's explore the teen years together.
The Changes Through The Teen Years:
Puberty and adolescence brings about tremendous changes in your children, it's a tremendous time of personal growth for both you and your teen.
It's hard to ascertain precisely when the teen years begin as puberty often hallmarks the beginning of changes in teens. Some teens hit puberty early while others are late-bloomers. There is no real "normal" when it comes to the teen years.
Puberty is often considered the transition of the body into adulthood, the visible changes you can easily see - growing in height, changing shape, developing breasts, growing muscles. What you don't see are the other changes puberty brings about. These invisible changes are the start of a period called "adolescence."
Your babies are growing up, becoming more independent, which can cause much strife between parents and teens. Simple disagreements fueled by hormones and hurt feelings can turn into door-slamming, teeth-gnashing battles. This is normal. It sucks, I know.
Along with that independence comes the pulling away that we parents so hate. There's nothing like looking at a child who you spent night after night bouncing to keep him happy only to be told that he or she doesn't want to hang with you - DUH MOM, you're BORING.
While your teen is growing and changing, he or she is becoming increasingly concerned by his or her appearance and "fitting in" socially. While most adults consider being unique as a perk, most teens would vastly prefer to be just like everyone else.
During the teen years, your child will try out many different identities, changing much from one day to the next, until he or she finds the identity that works best. During this change, he or she may become aware of how "different" he or she is. This can lead to much teeth-gnashing and hurt on their part, which means that your child may easily become distressed and lash out at you - his parents - in the process.
It hurts, don't let anyone tell you differently, but before you get too up on your cross, remind yourself that you, too, once behaved in a somewhat similar way to your own parents. And if you didn't behave in the manner that your child does, it doesn't mean that you didn't think mean things about your parents. A little compassion and a lot of slack can go a long way. Remember that.
Guidebook For Surviving The Teen Years:
Before you do or say anything to your child, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are the adult in the situation, you must be the bigger person, and do not rise to the situation.
Remind yourself how YOU felt when you were a teen and if you can't remember those years (or you were the golden child), pick up a book or two about teens. The changes they're going through are tremendous - these years are vital in the development of their personality, their lifestyle, and set the prescient for the adult years.
You are not your child's friend. While coping with them may be easier if you're all buddy-buddy with them, that is not being a parent. That's using the cop-out method.
Set and firmly stick to rules while following through on punishments. Work with your teen to find out what he or she may consider to be "appropriate" rules and try to work within those parameters. Being authoritarian (it's my way or the highway) can backfire, leading to more stress, fighting, and having to punish your child more than you should.
Set expectations - reasonable expectations - for your teen. You may bring them into the decision-making process, but part of being a good parent is making sure that there are appropriate limits. It shows that you care.
Expect the mood-swings from your teen. They hurt like hell to manage, but generally it's a result of a combination of stress and hormones. It's not easy to go through this transition, not for either of you, but it's not all about you. Your teen is a person who deserves respect.
It's not personal. It's really not. Remind yourself of this before rising to any bait and beginning a fight with your child.
Keep in touch with your teen. Know his friends and their parents. Get a general idea of what he or she does outside the home.
Have the discussion about drugs and alcohol with your teen. It's all about experimentation during the teen years - but letting them know that some things are more dangerous than others is very important.
Read more about teen substance abuse.
Remind yourself again and again that your teen arguing and fighting with you is a way in which your child is working to establish his or her new identity.
Again, it's not personal. Tattoo it on yourself if you must.
Keep an open dialog with your child. Ask about puberty. Ask about how school is going. Ask after his friends and, if he's having trouble fitting in, try to help him to fit in - even if it means that you buy something for him that seems stupid to you.
If your child is too embarrassed - or unwilling - to talk to you openly, give your child some books about the teen years so he or she may be better equipped to handle the coming changes.
Tell your child about the things that you, as a teen, went through and how you handled them. But don't make it all about you - this is about what your child is going through.
Remind them that they are not alone. The teen years can be extremely isolating for many.
Your child, though he or she may not act like it, still wants your approval. Be sure to compliment him or her on their actions and achievements. They may not need the same level of support and praise as a young child, but he or she still wants you to be proud to be his or her parent.
Tell your child that you are proud of him or her, even during times in which he or she is not behaving as you like.
Remind your child that you love him or her - no matter what. He or she may not act as though it matters, but it does.
If you see your child struggling with mental illness or bullies, take action. Be his or her advocate. Get your child the help he or she needs.
Read more about Teen Mental Illness
Read more about bullying.
Read more about how to cope with bullying.
Remind your child that the teen years are hard - hard as hell - but that they will eventually end. The real world is far easier than the teen years.
Start an open and frank discussion with your child about sex and practicing safe sex. Explain the consequences of unsafe sex and how they can affect life down the road. Many teens lack the ability to see tomorrow, let alone what life will be like at thirty.
Assure your child that sexual feelings and masturbation are both normal and healthy parts of being an adult. Sexual feelings may be overwhelming for teens without this reassurance.
Read more about talking to teens about sex.
Model and openly discuss what a healthy and unhealthy relationship is. Explain dating abuse and how to handle it if your teen's partner becomes abusive.
Read more about teen dating abuse.
Remind your teen that he or she has value and deserves to be treated as such. By teachers. By friends. By partners. In turn, teach your teen to give respect to those who deserve it.
Now, more than ever, practice empathy. The teen years are tough for many - and being an empathetic parent can make all the difference in the world.
Choose your battles and choose them wisely. So long as your child is being safe, it's okay to let them do stuff that makes them look dumb. Like wearing skinny jeans or cutting their hair into a mullet. If your child's mood becomes dark, ask if the acting out has to do with any problems he or she is having.
Keep any eye out for the warning signs and behavioral changes that last more than a couple of weeks. If your child appears depressed, suicidal, has run-ins with the law, it's time to do a formal sit-down with your child and get to the root of his or her problems.
While you're doing all of this, respect their need for privacy. As budding adults, teens need to feel as though they're able to establish independence in a safe way. Do not read their emails, texts, or their phone logs.
Allowing for the development of independence will go a long way toward establishing the trust of your teen. And that is important for you both.
When all else fails, punch a pillow. Then breathe.
If you're struggling mightily with the teen years, don't hesitate to find a therapist who can help guide you through these waters.
You're not alone. We can do this together.
Additional Parenting A Teen Resources:
Advocates for Youth – a resource for helping young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. Many articles and resources are available in several languages. Includes areas and information for both parents and teenagers.
Siecus – The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. This organization was founded to provide accurate information on sexuality to young people and adults.
SexEdLibrary – a comprehensive online resource for all things about sexual education.
The National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy – was primarily founded to help prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy. They support teaching responsible sexual behavior to both young men and women. They have specific resources for African-American youth and the Latino community.
Stay Teen – this sister site to The National Campaign is geared toward teenagers and they strive to provide teenagers with facts about sex and to provide them with unbiased information and different viewpoints. Some articles are even written by teenagers themselves.