Today’s adolescents are presenting as more challenging than ever before. They are surrounded with all sorts of stimulation and choices. Illegal drugs are easily accessible, school districts are limited in teen treatment and services that they can provide, peer pressure surrounds them and most families have dual incomes. The expectations are greater for an adolescent to succeed. Studies are finding that teenagers are more at risk for mental health issues, substance abuse, addiction than ever before.
External stressors such as divorce, death and social pressures have a tremendous impact on the healthy development of an adolescent male or female. Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D., author of Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall, states, “The capacity to let go, to separate, to allow a child to resolve his or her own destiny, is crucial to being the parent of a teenager.”
Clinicians who work with teenagers are often asked, “What do I do with my son or daughter?” Below are some important guidelines for dealing with today’s adolescent.
- Set firm limits and boundaries and enforce them when they are crossed. Adolescents often report that they want to be disciplined and structured. They want their parents to be parents.
- It is extremely important to have open communication between parents and their teenagers. However, parents should not rely upon their children as friends. At times, parents end up confiding adult information with children who are simply too young to hear that information. Being friends with your teenage child is inappropriate because parents can become enmeshed in their child’s life. This is unhealthy, since a major part of parenting involves letting go.
- In addition, when a parent assumes the role of friend, they lose ground as disciplinarian and enforcer of limits. It is important to have discipline in place so that adolescents are accountable for their behavior and parents do not sabotage their role of authority.
- Active listening is key in the relationship between parent and teenager. Active listening is being able to hear what your son or daughter is saying without passing judgment or feeling the need to immediately resolve the situation at hand. This proves to be an invaluable support to the child.
- According to Wolf, “Trust is the foundation of the relationship between parent and teenager. Parents must be able to trust their children. Adolescents must feel trusted, for it is a key to their sense of self-respect.” Trust is a cyclical dynamic that is often difficult to engage, but the rewards are exponential in the relationship between teenager and parent.
- Positive conflict resolution and the art of compromise. The teenage years are filled with turbulent emotions between the adolescent and parents. Oftentimes, an argument ends with doors slamming, insults being hurled and, in some cases, worse. The participants of the argument tend to want to let things go or “let the dust settle” rather than resolve the initial conflict and the issues stemming from it. This only allows the family to nurse the anger that may explode again later.Parents are encouraged to revisit the conflict when both parties have calmed themselves and can discuss the issues in an appropriate manner. This will open the door for compromise on behalf of both parties, which is a win-win situation.
- Limiting screen time. There is an overabundance of stimulation and information available at a moment’s notice on devices that are easily accessible. All too often, the information stemming from tablets and phones is negative or a gateway to bullying, peer pressure or invitations to act in ways that an adolescent may not typically act. Some parents are fearful about establishing rules or limits surrounding devices. However, it is imperative those limits be in place for the overall health of the adolescent.
Parenting the “new” adolescent presents many challenges and is ever evolving, but it can be done successfully through different forms of teen treatment. By providing structure, support, limits, respect, communication and trust the family unit can begin to thrive. But overall, it is important for parents to be parents and provide a safe and caring home environment where the issues of today’s teenager can be addressed in a supportive but firm fashion.
Regan D. Sarmento, M. Ed.
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