Your role as a parent was much clearer when your children were young. You managed every aspect of their life. When they go to bed, what they eat, and what they watch on TV are a few examples. You decided what the rules are and what happens when they are not followed. Young children appreciate having loving and involved parents to help them navigate daily life.
But when children move in to adolescence, the natural progression of separating from parents and wanting more independence begins to happen. Critical thinking turns on during this time and they question everything. They are less interested in other people’s logic and more interested in using their own. “Why do I have to make my bed every day? I’m just going to mess it up again tonight.”
This shift in adolescence can be difficult as a parent to adjust to. Having your rules and decisions challenged can be frustrating. We are taught to see this as disrespectful and needs to be shut down. This is when the pattern of power struggles between parents and teens begins.
Adjusting your Parenting Style
It is important to adjust your parenting style to support your teen’s natural desire to grow into an independent self. This doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t mean to have a totally hands-off approach. But when parents insist on maintaining the same role as they did in early childhood it can strain the relationship.
Here are 3 common mistakes parents make during the teen years:
Parenting Mistake #1 – Trying to fix your teen’s problems
When our children are young, it is our job to take care of problems and teach them what to do and what not to do. It can feel good to be helpful in this way. But teenagers have a greater desire to handle their own problems and make decisions for themselves.
While it is important to have rules around safety or self-destructive behaviors…, allowing your teen to make some decisions for themselves or at least have a say in the matter supports their natural growth. Teenagers learn more through experience than by what they are told.
Here is a way to think about it. When your teen goes to driving school, they first learn about the rules and safety in a classroom setting. Then they get behind the wheel of a car and the instructor is in the passenger seat with a break to use if needed. The teen is allowed to have the experience of driving to practice what they have learned in the classroom. The instructor should be supportive and encouraging and intervene when needed.
Consider your role in the younger years of your child’s life like the instructor in the classroom and your role in their life now is to allow them to drive some while you are their if needed. Being supportive and encouraging is key and allowing them to make mistakes.
Parenting Mistake #2 – Minimizing your teen’s feelings
As an adult, you have a lot of life experience. You have learned a great deal from life lessons which has shaped how you view the world and make decisions. Your teen has limited experience of the world and is still learning how to navigate life. We can forget how challenging it was back then and how big our problems felt to us.
During the adolescent stage of development, teens tend to be more self-absorbed and focus most on how situations make them feel or what they say about them as a person. They are more concerned with what is going on in their life right now than what’s going to happen 5 years from now. Peer relationships and feeling good about themselves is paramount. Also, emotions are felt more intensely during adolescence.
When your teen complains about what a jerk their math teacher is or how a classmate makes fun of them, there may be a tendency to tell them to not let those things bother them. “Just focus on getting your math work done. Or, “just ignore that kid”.
Consider when your teen complains to you about something, they are wanting connection with how they are feeling. Instead of trying to help them change how they view the situation, acknowledge how they are feeling about the situation first. Saying something like: “I can see you are really bothered by your teacher” or “was that embarrassing for you when your classmate was making fun of you?” can communicate how they are feeling matters to you.
They will often share more about the situation with you. It is more important to stay present and listen than to offer advice. They will let you know if they want your help in solving the problem. If you jump to advice right away, teens often shut down.
Parenting Mistake #3 – Taking things personally
You put a lot of time and energy into being a good parent. You have your teens best interest at heart and you have been there for them since the day they were born. So, when your teen stays out past curfew and you are lying in bed worrying about them, your first thought may be ‘they are breaking a rule’. The next thought may be…’he doesn’t care that I am worried. After all I do for him how can he do this to me?’
You ask your daughter to unload the dishwasher and she grunts, rolls her eyes, and says “why do I have to unload the dishwasher? I’m supposed to meet Lindsey at the mall.” You may think she is being selfish. After all, you are tired after working all day and need some help around the house. And the grunts and eye rolling feels disrespectful and hurts.
Teens have different priorities than parents and they aren't focusing on how their parents will be affected by their choices. Remember what I said in Mistake #2. Teens become very self-absorbed. They determine if something is worth their time by if they are going to like it and if it benefits them. In both of the scenarios above, the main priority the teens had was being with their friends.
In early childhood, attachment is bonding and attaching with parents/caregivers. In adolescence, the focus is bonding and attaching with their peers. This doesn’t mean they are no longer bonded with you. It means that their relationship with you is secure. If they break a rule, you are not going to stop being their parent. But friendships are more fragile. As is, the need to feel like they belong or fit in.
Knowing this doesn’t mean you stop having a curfew or don’t ask your teen to contribute around the house. It means that exploring other approaches that honor your teens natural development while teaching them how to contribute and honor rules.
The way this might look:
Validating for your teen how much their friends mean to them. Even asking what is it about Lindsey you really like?... Or, what do enjoy doing the most with your friends?
Have a conversation about curfew and ask your teen how they feel about curfew and what time they think is reasonable. You can consider if it feels ok to you to adjust curfew. Maybe somewhere in the middle? When teens have a say in the rules, they are more likely to follow them.
So, given how self-absorbed teens are and their focus on being with their friends and doing things they like, they probably aren’t thinking about you in the moment. Not that they don’t love you. And, they are not making decisions with hurting you in mind. Even though it can hurt.
All Parents Make Mistakes
Making mistakes is a part of learning for our teens as well as for us. Being willing to acknowledge when you make a mistake to your teen will go a long way in repairing connection with them. Consider the challenges of being a parent are offering you opportunities to not only support your teen’s growth but your growth as well.
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