Here are some tips to help you navigate the teen years. The transition from child to young adult is a crucial phase as this is when he picks up the skills and attitude to survive and thrive in the world outside the home. Like a farmer carefully tending a garden, you can create a conducive environment for him to grow into an independent, responsible, and communicative young adult.
1. Recognise that your teen is going through a phase. It is not permanent.
Many parents find it tough that the child who used to follow them everywhere is suddenly not free, preferring to be with her cool friends. Do not take it personally. She’s in a phase of establishing self-identity and needs space to explore. She still values you but it is not going to be easy to get her to say so. At the right times, tell her you value her ideas and contributions to the family.
2. Don’t give up. The teen years are the ‘lowest point’ for many parents.
This is the most challenging season of the parental journey. Your teen does not listen to instructions and speaks in a disdainful tone. Everything you say sounds outdated. You are labelled ‘nag’, ‘boring’ and even ‘timid’. Your sweet little boy may even be up to terrible mischief. But, you can’t give up. This is not parental ‘hell’ and will not go on forever. Find supportive friends who have gone through this before, and share how you feel.
3. There are no labour pains during the teen years, but growing pains will abound.
As Parent, you are Guide and Nurturer, preparing your teen for adulthood. Your teen is growing up, learning responsibility, facing up to consequences, thinking for himself, caring for others, managing peer pressure, making decisions… It’s giving birth to an adult! Where possible, value your child’s opinion. Ask him how he feels about something.
4. Express confidence that your teen will mature into a responsible adult.
Your teen may be as tall as you, but he is not an adult. He has much to grow emotionally and psychologically, excelling in some areas and fumbling in others. Let him know you believe in him regardless. Express your confidence and pride in his potential to do right and do well.
5. Give your teen space to make decisions and be prepared for mistakes.
Growing up involves learning to assess options, and thinking through each step. Give him space to make choices and mistakes. Tell your teen that you are proud of him when he has the courage to own up to them. Affirm him when he does something well and makes good choices.
6. Be your teen’s anchor in a sea of change.
Teens go through dramatic changes in a short period. Their hormones are raging, they have new relationships to negotiate, secondary school is a whole new world and they don’t always know what to do. Don’t overreact to your teen’s angst or exploits. Be his anchor, by listening, being honest yet supportive.
7. Continue to set boundaries. But, be a Nurturer.
Your teen will continue to derive a sense of security from the boundaries you set for her. But, be prepared to modify these boundaries when a situation calls for it. This will give her space to explore, grow in confidence become more independent.
8. In times of conflict, start with listening to your teen.
Strict, rigid rules fuel resentment and parent-teen conflict. Allow room for negotiation. Start with listening to your teen. Thereafter, explain your point of view and the ‘whys’ behind your rules. Come to an agreement on the issue, even if it is to disagree.
9. Be supportive when your teen has to face up to the consequences of his actions.
Encourage him to acknowledge, apologise, and accept the consequences respectfully. Do not cover up for him. Nurture your teen to be a person of his word. These are leadership qualities that will stand him in good stead as he takes on the many personal and professional responsibilities in adulthood.
10. Don’t shame your teen in private or in public. Help him find solutions to his problems.
Give him time to think about his situation carefully, then say, “Let’s work a way out of this together.”
11. Build, not tear down.
No matter how angry you are, do not push your child away from you with words like: “You are no longer my child!” or “I am not your dad anymore!” Take steps to de-escalate the conflict. Recoup to discuss the matter when everyone is calmer.
12. Find common ground. Share a hobby.
Discover what motivates your teen and helps him relax when he is stressed. Look for hobbies to work on alongside him that you both enjoy. Such interactions build up common ground for parent and child to communicate throughout life. Affirm his strengths. Coach him through tight spots. Cheer him on.
Communicate that you value your teen, apart from his actions, academic results, and achievements. Let your teen know that you cherish him for who he is, as he is.
In his book, The Examined Life, Robert Norzick explains that a person is of worth because he is alive and human. Unfortunately, the world places greater emphasis on a person’s skills and decisions than his innate worth.
As a parent, recognise that your teen is irreplaceable. Show him that he is a beloved child and member of the family. A person who grows up knowing that, will learn to weather many storms in life. Ron Taffel said, “Even as kids reach adolescence, they need more than ever for us to watch over them. Adolescence is not about letting go. It’s about hanging on during a very bumpy ride.”
Based on Centre for Fathering’s Navigating the Teen Years Workshop by Mr Edwin Choy, Therapist, Family Coach and Co-founder of CFF.