Is your relationship with your teenager changing?
Are you grieving a little, and celebrating a little?
Is your teenager ready to leap forward?
Are you struggling to find your balance in parenting your teenager?
I hope your relationship with your teenager is changing – it should be, and this typically involves more of a need for privacy, a need for separation from you for the emerging self. However, many parents have a hard time navigating this emotionally and also how to deal with a teenager’s behavior. My answer to a lot of this dilemma is expectations and boundaries.
Boundaries with teenagers actually aren’t that difficult in some ways. Teens want increased freedoms, but with that comes increased responsibility and accountability. Increased freedom is also based upon how well the teen has navigated increased freedom in the past. It shouldn’t be based upon what Sally down the street does, because you as the parent are responsible for your child, not Sally, and your child may be a different maturity level than Sally. Always, always remember the ultimate goal: to raise a functional adult! So, start where you are and move forward.
I think it’s important to ask yourself several questions:
1 – Did you come from a enmeshed, codependent family structure growing up OR conversely, a family structure where you received no boundaries, no guidance, no support? This can influence how we approach our own teenagers. Examine yourself and how you function in relationships.
One of the solutions for this is to look and to consider not only what we want our children to be able to do by the end of THIS YEAR (not six years ahead to get ready for college; that is meaningless to early teens or even mid-teenagers!) What would help your child increase in not only FREEDOM but RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY this year? Part of the plan of parenting teenagers is to make our teenagers functional young adults who are able to leave home and live on their own. What boundaries would help this? Where do they need a little nudge toward balance? Where are they emotionally and maturity wise? It isn’t always about the “number age” a teenager is, but what their stage of developmental is.
2. Are you killing yourself for your teenager? Sometimes we reinforce bad behavior. We don’t need to be available every minute for our teenagers. If you are being treated poorly, but yet also are running yourself ragged taking care of your teen, you may be enmeshed or you may be enabling your teenager to be self-centered and even downright narcisstic. You can say no, you don’t have to do something if it isn’t in your own best interest or even yes, if it is super inconvenient. Yes, we take care of our teenagers, but a teenager’s wants are not the same thing as actual needs.
3. Boundaries come with conflict. You can explain the “why” of the boundary – the teenager may not like it! Conflict is fairly inevitable. You can explain at what age you think x want/x activity is appropriate for your teenager – they may not like it! Somehow, you have to keep your emotional response out of it. There are no shortcuts for this; it is just having a consistent, calm response. Freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility and accountability. So the only thing you can do is keep building a bank of positive, loving memories to hold you over when the conflict is there and keep showing them that a good track record goes a long way toward increased freedoms.
4. Set boundaries on technology. The number one problem I see parents having with early to mid teens (ie, 13-15 or 16) is the lack of boundaries around technology which influences the teenager not being interested in completing things that needs to happen – chores, schoolwork, etc. and seems to encourage holing up in a room and not doing much else. Use a Disney Circle or another device to limit things. Set limits that involve no phones at the table to eat and no phones at night. Don’t just accept how it is. Approval for social media and apps and games should be coming through YOU.
5. Connect! Turn off the technology, and do things as a family. Take an interest in your child’s healthy passion even if you don’t totally understand it. Love your child and what they want to do. Do things together. Have a special breakfast just the two of you once a week. Take a special overnight trip together. Keep building up the memories and love.
6. Are you helping your teenager avoid making mistakes? Mistakes are vital, and if we are resilient parenting, parents with a growth-mindset, we are helping our teenagers learn how to be resilient in the face of disappointment instead of changing the path in front of the child so they don’t fail. This is important work, and boundaries involving not bailing your teenager out are important. The quality of a teenagers life and their life as a young adult in a healthy and supportive family, is based on their own choices, not what we do as parents.
7. Are you setting the expectations up front ahead of time? I find sometimes when we are in a rough spot with our teens, we have to think clearly ahead about how to speak to one another, to lay out the expectations of what we expect and why, and to ask if the teen needs support in following things through. We also need to be clear as to consquences. This goes back to boundaries – things don’t go on as usual when a teen isn’t holding up their end of things.