A version of this article was published in Hood Magazine in February 2019.
Many parents struggle with their child’s transition into adolescence. Teenagers often pull away from their parents in an effort to assert their independence and begin forming their own identity separate from the family. This can manifest as argumentativeness, rebellious behavior, and an “attitude problem.” Sometimes, it can feel like every conversation with your teen is a fight.
How can you navigate this difficult time and have a positive relationship with your teenager?
- Mean what you say, and be consistent. Many parents want their teens to come to them with their problems but do not know how to handle when an issue arises. If you promote an open door policy in your home, but you become upset, shame them, or administer punishments, your teenager will not feel comfortable reaching out to you when they need something.
- Find other trusted adults who they can turn to. It can be challenging to set appropriate boundaries with your teenager but still foster an environment where they can ask for help when they make a mistake. For example, if you want to teach your teenager not to drink underage, they might find themselves in a situation where they need a ride but do not want to disappoint you. If they have other adults they can trust, they do not have to choose between letting you down and keeping themselves safe.
- Manage your own expectations. All adults were teenagers once, but it is sometimes difficult to remember the emotional and hormonal turmoil of adolescents when we look back as adults. In many ways, teenagers are still children: their life experience is limited, and the part of their brain that regulates impulses is still growing. (In fact, new research has shown that brain development continues through most of our 20’s!) Try to remember what is developmentally appropriate for your teenager and what they are capable of at this point in their life.
- Take an interest in what your teen cares about. Sometimes, the current fads seem unimportant or silly to adults. If your teenager gets the impression that you do not care about their interests, they will feel distant from you, and they might assume that not caring about their hobbies means that you do not care about them. Learning about their favorite video game or book series can go a long way in helping your teenager feel connected to you.
- Know when to ask for help. If your teenager is having trouble keeping friends, self-harming, or showing symptoms of anxiety or depression, consider enrolling them in therapy. Their therapist is someone that they can talk to and feel safe sharing their emotions and problems.
Adolescence is a challenging time for everyone in the family, but patience and understanding can go a long way in keeping communication open and improving your relationship with your teenager.