“My teenager is out of control! I don’t know how much longer I can take this. How is s/he going to make it as an adult?!” Does this sound familiar? It’s not uncommon for parents of adolescents to experience some resistance from their teenagers, even from parenting methods that used to work. While it’s understandable to be concerned about the welfare of your teenagers soon embarking on adulthood, the fact that they are showing some resistance (read initiative) can be a good thing. It can mean that your teenager is maturing and developing his or her own will, ideas, and yes, initiative, which will be necessary for he or she to become the successful adult you are hoping for. However, they are not yet adults. You are still responsible for them. That can cause tension. Here are few steps you can take to help ease the transition from adolescence into adulthood and lower the stress in your household.
Set them up for success
Give them a chance to collaborate with you. Ask for their input. They may be resorting to angry retorts and mutterings because they don’t know how else to be heard. Expecting complete subservience from teenagers can actually stifle their problem-solving ability as well as their development of the skill of respectful communication with authority. Remember we are teaching them how to be adults and they may someday need to navigate a conversation with a boss about a raise or with a police officer about an issue. You’ll want them to know how to handle themselves in these situations.
Create a contract with them
Again, be collaborative. This affirms that you value their opinions and holds them accountable to their own words. For example, your teenager can decide that Behavior A leads to reward while Behavior B leads to punishment and agree to it in writing.
Let them be teenagers
This means let them have some reasonable freedoms that they have earned. This teaches them that they are valued and have a contribution to make. Similarly, adolescents’ “body clock” runs later than ours. Their bodies want to wake up later and go to bed later. Allow them freedom in this as is possible with real-world schedules.
Sit down when you talk to them
Although the height gap may be closing as your child ages, (or they may have already grown taller than you!), your body language can send an unintended aggressive message to which your teenager feels the need to defend him or herself.
Take interest in their lives. Don’t let your only conversations be about how they have disappointed you. Do an activity together, and you’ll have the chance to ask about their day or their test or their friends. Go to their soccer games or band performances or choir or art shows and encourage their hard work. They may not say anything about it, but they will notice.
Live the example of how you expect them to behave
Finally, show compassion. Model forgiveness. Be kind. Be honest. Have a sense of humor. Exercise self-discipline.
Julie Perron, M.S., L.M.F.T.A.
Julie Perron is a marriage and family therapist at Wright Directions Counseling in South Bend, IN.