When children enter their teens, parents often find themselves wondering why the strategies they used for parenting their children are no longer effective. Teens may be dramatic, explosive, unpredictable, isolated, and uninterested in spending time with family. What happened!?
Teens are experiencing significant hormonal and physical changes causing a decrease in their ability to control emotions and confusion about why they feel so angry or sad. They are experiencing sexual interest which may be a source of embarrassment or confusion for them. They may seem to not care about their personal future goals and may be more curious/interested in moral thinking. They are typically more self-involved and may seem to have decreased interest in the lives of their family members.
The developmental stage for teens requires increased self-awareness, drive for independence, and the drive to experience a sense of self outside of the safety of the nuclear family. All of this is to be expected.
What is a parent to do to handle their suddenly unpredictable teenager?
First of all, try to recall how you felt during this time in your own life. Empathy will go a long way while raising teens.
Your teen may be navigating changes in friendships, insecurities around body image exacerbated by social media and the like-driven feedback loop. Teens with surging hormones may be questioning their sexuality, why they are not developing as quickly as their peers, or why they are suddenly the tallest/shortest in their class. Teens are self-centered which is a natural stage of development. This focus on self may intensify their insecurities as well as the perceived gravity of social dynamics and perceived opinions of peers.
Remember, your teen is potentially experiencing all of these emotions at once and due to their drive for independence and need to separate from parents, they may not share any of this with you in real-time.
Teen Parenting Tip #1 – Be Open: Try to assess and acknowledge your teen’s emotions. ‘You seem upset… just know I am in the other room and you can come to me if you feel like talking.’ When your teen does open up, ask if they would like your feedback/advice/suggestion or if she/he just wants you to listen. Either way, empathize with the emotion and the experience and less about getting in the weeds to intensify a potentially already over-dramatized situation.
Teen Parenting Tip #2 – LISTEN: Actually, hear what your teen is saying to you…. even when it’s hard to understand. They are living in a different time than you did as a teen, and social media and access to information have changed things significantly.
When raising younger children, you could often give direction/advice and your child would take in your opinion. Now, your teen may seem willful, and self-involved, and uninterested in your opinion. Your teen is developing a sense of independence. In my practice, teens frequently complain that parents are ALWAYS teaching/lecturing. Don’t be that parent.
Teen Parenting Tip #3 – Lighten Up: Strive to NOT make every interaction a ‘teachable moment’. Make room for fun and laughter. A shift of emotion in the household will help to reduce the potential tension of anxiety, anger, or sadness your teen may be experiencing.
Teens may seem closed off and grumpy, or conversely, overly emotional and dysregulated.
Teen Parenting Tip #4 – Give Space: This is not the time to problem-solve. Just empathize or ignore and allow them time to self-soothe. I find teens will open up when they do not feel pressured. My teens would open up just when I was exhausted and typically at midnight on a weekend. Wake up and listen! These moments may be rare.
Maybe you have younger children who at one time got along most of the time and now your teen doesn’t want them in their room, they do not want to spend time with them and may even be taking their intense emotions out on a sibling. This is normal. Siblings know intuitively that their brother/sister will always be there and will often unknowingly let down their guard with siblings and be dysregulated with them hoping there will be no consequences.
Teen Parenting Tip #5 – Limit Sibling Rivalry: Outline family rules about how you treat one another. There will be rifts between siblings and this is to be expected. It is not ok to harm siblings physically or emotionally. One of my family rules when raising four sons was ‘be your brothers’ biggest fan’ and ‘never kick your brother when he’s down’. Set up consequences for overt disrespectful behavior towards a sibling and stick to the defined consequence when needed.
During this stage, teens will test the limits and seemingly will be willful and often defiant. You may find them sneaking electronics, staying up later than usual, sleeping too late on weekends, covering up or lying to avoid consequences, and having a disrespectful tone.
Teen Parenting Tip #6 – Define Rules: Outline household rules including RESPECT for family members (and household; no destroying room/walls), chores, sleep times, times to turn in or put down electronics, homework/school rules. Set expectations and time ranges to complete, and then let your teen decide when they will complete it within that time limit. No need to constantly remind them or ask them repeatedly when they will complete the task. Also, outline the consequences of breaking these rules. Maybe this includes grounding, losing electronics, losing access to the family car, or extra chores. If you are unsure of a consequence in the moment, take time and consider it before dolling out the consequence to the teen. It is better to have consistency with the consequence rather than show a teen you can be worn down or you will ‘forget’ about the consequence.
If you are noticing intense defiance, I recommend you set up a reward system rather than consequences that take away privileges. For example, completing daily chores, completing homework, and being respectful will allow the teen to earn screen time, use of a car, or ½ hour extended curfew over the weekend.
If you lose your cool and ‘lose it’ yourself, accept responsibility when you have calmed down. This shows teens that you are human, and accountability is important.
Parents now have constant access to tracking teens. You can see their grades, turned in, and missing assignments in real-time through the school portal. You may be tracking them with special tracking apps and know their location at all times, their rate of speed when driving, and even if they swerved a bit while driving. YIKES!
Teen Parenting Tip #7 – Trust: Constantly tracking your teen’s location, grades, etc. will actually intensify your anxiety overall and will frustrate your teen, and leave a sense of distrust. Set up schoolwork expectations and explain the need for them to be honest about communicating their location regularly. I recommend a weekly brief check-in to discuss school and how grades are going and ask/determine if any assistance is needed, as opposed to the constant grade checking and telling your teen how to navigate high school. Your teen must figure this out on their own and know they can come to you when they are struggling. Set a bar where you are giving the message, ‘I know you’ve got this’ rather than, ‘you need my constant monitoring and guidance to succeed.’
Phones, social media, YouTube, TikTok, video games, etc. are seemingly the center of your teen’s world. Yes, these activities are designed to draw you in and to keep you engaged. There is an increase in anxiety, social anxiety, electronic addiction, and depression as a result. Teens being asked to put down electronics, or who lose electronics as a consequence, will often lash out in anger, feel this is unfair, and will potentially be anxious.
Teen Parenting Tip #8 – Set Screen Time: Define parameters for screen time and stay consistent. This may look like no telephones at the table, no telephone in the room after a certain time at night, and screen time for ½ hour after school to decompress, then doing homework or sport/activities before engaging in screen time again. Some families will have no screens on Sundays and try to have a family activity. This category is tricky as most teens need their computers for schoolwork and can sneak in video gaming or social media. Don’t overly police, just do your best to be consistent outside of homework time and use school performance as your guide.
Raising teens does not have to be looked at with trepidation and dread. This is just another phase in development that is essential to their well-being and their ability to learn how to regulate their own emotions and make decisions from a place of increased independence.
Teen Parenting Tip #9 – Highlight the Good: Find your teen’s unique gifts and point them out. What are they doing well? Notice that and verbalize it to your teen. Treat them like they are irreplicable because they are. Find special activities which will allow you to bond during this new developmental stage. Researching a recipe and cooking together, choosing a new restaurant together, watching a show together, rebounding the basketball for them; just hanging out doing whatever.
Teen Parenting Tip #10 – Encourage Balance: Teens will typically experience extreme emotions and may be confused about their inability to control their emotions. Promote a healthy lifestyle including consistent sleep and meals, physical activities, family time, social time with peers, spiritual time (whether that is meditation, self-help or formal prayer/service, relaxing time, self-care, learning/intellectual time). We need all these components to feel well and this structure will definitely help your teen feel more grounded.
I hope you find these tips for dealing with your teen beneficial.
Some will surely be easier to implement than others, but in my experience, they will help given enough time and consistency. Practice makes perfect they say!
However, if your teen still seems to be struggling and/or you are concerned about their safety, please reach out to a licensed mental health professional to schedule an appointment. Sometimes, teens need a trusted third party to open up to – and that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent – it’s simply the way it is, and seeking support from a professional should never be seen as a failure. Parents in Arizona can contact me for a consult at (602) 329-0483. You can learn more about my teen therapy services here!