Raising a teenager isn’t easy. Teenagers often challenge authority figures, including their teachers and parents, and begin to prioritize their time with friends over their time with family. Your teen is not just trying to make your life difficult; teenagers’ brains are literally wired to rebel against authority and find a sense of belonging among their peers. Focusing on what happens during the adolescent stage of cognitive development, which takes place when children are between the ages of 12 and 18, can help you understand why teens behave the way they do and avoid some of the pitfalls that happen when you begin to parent teens.
1. Avoid asserting your will before trying to understand their point of view
Hypothetical scenario: You get a call from the high school attendance office notifying you that your child was absent from their last class period. When you confront them about this, you can tell that they are not telling the truth. Do you punish them for skipping school and lying about it or ask them why they skipped class?
No one likes to be lied to, so your immediate impulse may be to punish your child. However, this can actually make the situation worse by inadvertently teaching your child to find more effective ways to lie in the future to avoid punishment. Perhaps your child was not prepared for an exam and was worried about failing or was fighting with one of their friends in the class and was trying to avoid a possible confrontation.
Asking your child what happened rather than immediately punishing them is an example of empathetic parenting. Studies about empathetic parenting, which emphasizes trying to understand your child’s point of view before asserting your own, reveal numerous psychological and social benefits for children, including increased self-esteem and better emotional regulation. Empathetic parenting does have its shortfalls, though. Because this approach requires parents to always consider their child’s point of view first, it can cause higher levels of stress for parents.
2. Avoid dismissing your teen’s concerns rather than validating their feelings
Hypothetical scenario: Your seventh grader has asked that you drop him or her off a block away from school, practice, or other event, which would add another 15 minutes to your schedule. Do you agree to park farther away or say that you will continue dropping them off at the same place?
It can be difficult not to take this kind of request personally. After all, the subtext here is that your child is now embarrassed by you. According to their cognitive development, though, this feeling of embarrassment is completely normal. By middle adolescence, the need for children to feel accepted by their peers will eclipse their desire not to hurt their parents’ feelings. They are navigating new social situations, which can be extremely stressful. According to one study, not feeling a sense of belonging in adolescence can affect their social functioning later in life.
Rather than focusing on your personal emotional response to their request, try to use this as an opportunity to discuss the reasons behind their request. Asking questions about their worries shows them that those worries are valid and are worth discussing.
3. Avoid telling your teen to do something you don’t model (Show, don’t tell)
Hypothetical scenario: You take your family out to dinner, and you are on a tight budget. You realize that if your two teenagers order off of the kids’ menu, their meals will be much less expensive. Would you encourage them to order off of that menu even though they’re over the age limit?
In English classes, children are often instructed to show, not tell, meaning that they should use descriptive writing rather than relying on summary. The same is true with parenting. In the above example, you can explain to your child that it is important to tell the truth and follow the rules as many times as you want, but as soon as you show them otherwise, that essentially undoes the lessons you have taught them. Modeling the behavior you would like your children to imitate is important because kids are much more likely to do as their parents do rather than do as their parents say.
Not only is this modeling strategy effective when it comes to questions about ethics, but also when it comes to everyday behaviors. For example, if you are constantly telling your child that they should get off of their devices, but they regularly see you on your device, they likely won’t take your advice.
4. Avoid expecting your teen to fit a mold (every teen is different)
Hypothetical situation: You have two teenaged daughters. One of them is very open about her emotions, and the other one is more guarded. Do you encourage your more guarded daughter to open up about her feelings, using her sister as a point of comparison?
Parents of multiple children know that each child responds differently to parenting strategies. Of course all children are different, but it can be hard to accept the fact that different kids require different parenting strategies or styles. Many parents believe that they should treat their children the same in the name of fairness, but there is a difference between equality and equity. In the example above, pressuring one child to open up by comparing her to her sister implies that her sister’s behavior is correct and that her behavior is wrong, when in reality their behavior is just different. Accepting that what might work for one teenager might not work for another teenager is the first step in becoming an adaptable parent. Comparing your teenager to their siblings or even their friends can be counterproductive.
In this stage of cognitive development, young people can think more abstractly, which helps them to develop their own unique outlooks. This is frequently a period of tremendous change in terms of their personalities, and the more you can allow them the freedom to discover who they are, the more likely they are to grow and flourish throughout this difficult stage of development.
5. Avoid getting impatient with your teen and with yourself
Just when it seems that the teen parenting journey is going smoothly, you will encounter some big speedbumps in the road. This might take the form of your child lashing out at you without any clear reason or you making a parenting decision you later regret. Try to be patient throughout the difficult journey, carrying with you the assurance that it is an adventure-filled trip worth taking.
If your teen has been less motivated at school or unable to make plans for after high school, consider switching high schools. Destinations Career Academy is a modern career readiness online education program powered by a leader in online education—K12.