It may seem like just yesterday you were your son or daughter's favorite person, but fast forward a few years and she's singing (maybe screaming) a completely different tune. It's the universal dilemma all parents dread - the teen years.
Not only is your kid suddenly moody, prone to tears, and holed up in her room all the time, but she's also asking to drive your car, hanging out with friends you don't approve of, and getting exposed to drugs and alcohol. Just when you need her to start opening up to you, she's slamming the door in your face. Literally.
Womensforum talked to Micki Grimland, owner and chief psychotherapist at Southwest Psychotherapy Associates, and adolescent medicine expert Dr. Sharonda Alston Taylor of Texas Children's Hospital about effective parenting when your teen is starting to exert his or her independence.
First of all, take a breath. All of this is normal, and although it's easy to take the change personally, don't. The goal of childhood and parenting is to prepare your child to become an independent adult, so if your adolescent begins to exert his or her independence, you've done your job as a parent.
So what exactly is changing your sweet, lovable kid into a sullen teen? Alston Taylor says, "During adolescence the brain is maturing, especially the area related to sound decision making and the ability to override impulses. The brain is going from making decisions in the emotional center of the brain to having the pre-frontal cortex gain control."
In addition, adolescents are trying to find their identity and try on different "costumes" to see where they fit. Add hormones, and you've got quite a mix.
The key to effective parenting is accepting that these changes are happening, setting boundaries, and working with your kids so they feel like they are being heard.
As Micki Grimland tells parents, "You hold on tight with a wide open hand."
Alston Taylor recommends having shared decision-making that recognizes the adolescent's increasing ability to choose wisely rather than impulsively. It's tempting to treat a 15-year-old like a two-year-old as parents become fearful of losing control, but that's when your teens act out and try to rebel.
So how do you deal? First of all, it's important to establish close relationships early and create boundaries, but not walls.
Grimland says that one of the most important things for parents to do is to have two-way conversations in which they actively listen and check in with the teen to make sure they clearly understand where the teen is coming from.
"It is appropriate as you teen gets older to have discussions and compromise on curfews, expectations, and privileges. Provide increasing privileges and independence as the teen ages." - Dr. Sharonda Alston Taylor, adolescent medicine, Texas Children's Hospital
"The advice I give to parents is you use language like ‘choice.’ You always give the child a choice, but you control the choices. So it goes like this: Your room needs to be cleaned up by Friday night or you’ll choose to stay home with me all weekend. It’s up to you. There’s a way to frame everything in the form of a choice. The good about being a parent is you get to control the consequences of either choice," says Grimland.
Now, many parents aren't sure about how to go about the sex, drugs, and alcohol conversation, and it can leave you feeling simultaneously helpless and like you want to keep your teen in sight at all times. First of all, it's important to know that most teens are going to engage in some kind of experimentation as part of finding themselves and pushing away from their parents. The way to combat that or to make your opinions count is to foster an open relationship with kids from when they're little. If you start trying to get close to your kid when they’re a teenager, you will have already lost the game, Grimland says. If you’re doing that throughout their life, and then engage them in conversations about drugs, alcohol, and sex, they're going to be much more receptive to what you have to say.
In addition, offer your home as a place for your kids and their friends to come hang out. The more that you can include your home as a place for teenagers to come and hang out in, the more you’re going to be aware of what's going on in those social circles and how your teen is interacting with his or her friends.