By Paula Rainer, Ph.D.
Parents and siblings of teenagers sometimes feel shut out and unappreciated. This is because during the teenage years, children start to develop and define who they are outside of their family. You might notice that your teenager challenges many rules, boundaries, and values which he or she formally adhered to without much protest. Teenagers are trying to formulate a new identity, one of their own. They will push boundaries and test the waters. It’s a step toward adulthood and not a permanent condition.
It is important for a teenager to feel connected to his or her friends. In order to do this, he or she might start to emulate some of the friends’ behaviors and attitudes. Some of these behaviors and attitudes may not be all that positive. As a parent, you need to allow your teenager to individualize and formulate his or her own identity. It is ultimately positive for their development. The challenge for parents is to maintain an influence without stifling the teenager to the point where he or she will not communicate with you.
Maintaining open communication is essential. When communicating with your teenager, try not to become negative in emotions or speech; especially when your son or daughter is disclosing a serious incident, mistake, or asking a question. If you become angry, loud, excessively emotional, or even worse, physical , your son or daughter will not consider you to be safe and will not come to you with problems.
You want to maintain a strong connection with your teenager. You need to be the lifeboat he or she can jump into when waters are rough and when he or she is questioning his or her actions or feelings. Communication that is excessively judgmental and harsh is like a lifeboat with holes. Teenagers will insulate themselves or seek affirmations from peers who will offer them understanding if a parent’s communication is without understanding.
Expressing understanding does not mean that you necessarily agree with your teenager. Expressing understanding and a desire to listen demonstrates respect for your son or daughter’s thoughts and feelings.Listen to your teenager with the intent to understand what he or she is thinking and feeling and why. Listen first before weighing in on the situation. Regardless of whether you approve of your teenager’s actions or not, let him or her know that you will provide a lifeboat to help navigate this stage of exploration and independence.
Parenting a teenager is not an easy job. Sometimes enlisting the help of a professional counselor can be beneficial for both the parent and the teenager; making the journey into adulthood a little less bumpy for everyone involved.