Being a teenager is an important phase in developing one’s identity and testing out new and different ways to leave our mark on society. As one develops into adulthood, it is important to expand oneself in order to achieve new and diverse things. We rebel against imposed structures in order to be more creative and productive. We want to be different and to do different things. This is an important phase, if it didn’t happen; if every individual repeated the same things that others have done before; there would not be any improvement in society and no new ideas.
If you are parenting a teen, you have an idea how they tend to assume that you do not understand them, that you are not exciting and haven’t achieved much in their eyes. You might have experienced how difficult it can be to support your teen when they try to push you away so much. So what do you do as a parent? How do you be there for them and at the same time give them the space they need to develop into independent adults?
- Be honest and genuine.
In any relationship, being honest and genuine is a key factor. You communicate better when you avoid pretension and manipulation. This also counts when you are relating to your teen. Being honest about your feelings and thoughts, not only transmits respects and encourages openess with your child, it also teaches them how to express their own thoughts and feelings. If it is OK for an adult to do it (for example, talking about feelings and admitting insecurity), it is also OK for me.
- Be respectful.
Many teenagers feel that adults do not understand them and cannot take on their perspective. They feel the need to be on the defense and are transitioning from being a child to a teenager. Thus the shift may elicit a number of emotions related to competence, respect and validation. When you are respectful towards your child, whatever the age, they feel that they are seen. You talk with them rather down at them. You listen to their thoughts and ask for clarification. You can also admit that there are certain things which you don’t know much about and encourage them to explain.
- Be open and aware.
There are many trends, attitudes and complexities relevant to the teenage years that change over time. It is important that as a parent you keep yourself up-to-date about what is happening and what your teen may be facing. Searching about things and asking around helps not only to keep yourself informed, but also to avoid being shocked when your child may disclose something. If your child tells you something and you take it more in your stride, and are able to discuss with them about what they are bringing up, then next time they are more apt to come to you again as they feel that you are able to contain their own feelings and reactions.
Keeping yourself informed is also important so that you are on the lookout for signs that may show you that you need to intervene or support your teen in a more direct way.
- Encourage and praise.
Teenagers believe that the adults around them look down on them and are not appreciative of them. They may believe that they are criticised or pushed to be better which impliies that they are notenough. By focusing on their posiitive qulaities and praising their achievements, you help build their confidence and show them that you are able to ‘see them’.
- Be assertive.
As a parent your role is also that of keeping boundaries and ensuring that children learn about how their actions result in consequences. This is an important skill especially when they have to apply it to the ‘real world’. If you drive too fast you end up getting a speeding ticket, if you are constantly late at work you will receive a formal warning, if you steal or commit a crime there is also a price to pay, etc… Life is full of consequences and children will learn to apply the structure that you have set in place to the outside environemnt. Thus if you have rules and boundaries that you want your family to respect, be assertive about them and explain why they are important and in place.
- Be present.
Being present and available for your child, no matter how much they try to push you away, is very important. As a parent you may feel helpless at times and lost. However, if you show them your love and are there for your children they will know that they can always rely on you and fall back on the safety that your relationship offers.
These are only some of the things which you can do to maintain a healthy relationship with your teenager. As a parent and a practitioner, I believe that it’s very important to start certain practices from a young age and to keep building on them throughout life. Always remember to be realistic in your expectations, not only on your child but also on yourself as a parent, and to have fun together.
Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.