Tackling the Teenage Years
The teen years can prove to be challenging for families, as it is a time of great transition, with teens seeking more autonomy, wanting to think and make decisions for themselves, and parents often struggling with when & how to let go while still retaining the hierarchy of parental authority. When children are younger, phrases such as "because I said so" or "because I'm your mother" may sometimes be effective. As children become teenagers, it's important to consider a shift to negotiating rules, for example, listening to the teen's point of view, thinking it over and then returning with the final say as a parent. What's also helpful is providing reasons behind rules, such as relating curfews to the concept that you worry when they're out to late and you'd like to get a good night's sleep. Also, be weary of getting into arguments over teenagers reactions to rules, such as eye-rolling, grumbling or them responding with "I don't care." Instead of taking these reactions as a personal affront or disrespectful, as many parents' initial thoughts might lead them to believe, try shifting your perspective to the idea that these responses are simply one way teens express their feelings. Instead of overreacting, try tolerating grumbling, while expecting obedience. It's more important whether or not teens are following the rules than how they react when the rules are being stating or re-stated. It's also important for parents to be as flexible as possible, recognizing that enforcing rules around what teenagers do at home is where your control lies, while enforcing rules about what teens do outside the home isn't realistic, because you aren't present. As another perspective shift, think about the idea that we all have internalized tapes that play in our minds, whose voices are often those of our parents. These voices become part of teenagers' developing consciences. When parents are there trying to control things, teenagers may rebel. Instead, trust that all that you've taught them, said, and modeled is inside of them and that those tapes will be playing as they consider what is right/wrong when it comes time to make decisions. Additionally, It's important to be available for teens as a support and a listening ear, as having a trusted adult to talk to can relieve stress and strengthen resilience. Take an interest by asking specific questions without going into lecturing, threatening, or punishments as a response. Teenagers often keep things from their parents that they believe their parents may give them a hard time about. Work to minimize additional stress you, as parents, put on teenagers, because a stressful environment can lead to stress-relieving activities in attempts to self-soothe that may not be healthy/productive. As a final thought, although teenagers may not say this aloud, the approval of their parents still matters to them. It's okay to say things such as "I don't like when you come home later than your curfew." Parents can reduce arguments when teens break a rule by utilizing the following:
a. Make a clear statement acknowledging that a rule was broken
b. State that this type of behavior is not acceptable
c. Declare the rule still stands.
"You came home past your curfew yesterday. This is not acceptable. I want you home by 10pm and on time moving forward." Although they may respond about how it isn't fair or that all of their friends have later curfews, and that you can't make them follow the rule, you can respond with: "That's correct, I can't make you, but that is when I want you home by." Again, although they may respond with an eye roll, grumble or statement of "I don't care," they do care and the rule will have some impact on their decision making in the future. And since teenagers still care about parental approval, continue to give them specific positive praise, acknowledging when they do do something you like.
Reference: Nichols, M. P. 2009. Inside Family Therapy: A case study in family healing. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, MA.
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