A Get-Along Guide for Parents of Teens

It’s not easy being a teenager — nor is it easy being the parent of a teenager. A seemingly harmless comment from you can make your adolescent feel angry, hurt, or misunderstood. If your teen has you baffled and frustrated, try these tips that offer a commonsense approach to giving your child the space he needs to grow while gently letting him know that you’ll still be there for him when he needs you.

Expect a lot from your teen, just not everything. Work on one aspect of a teen’s behavior at a time. For example, if you’ve recently laid down the law on curfew and your child is just starting to get home on time consistently, it’s probably not the best time to focus on getting her to watch less TV. Overlook minor transgressions in one area while attending to another — trying too hard to modify several aspects of your adolescent’s behavior will overwhelm and frustrate you both. Save your absolute, no-compromise positions for health and safety issues, such as drug use or reckless driving, and consider everything else somewhat negotiable.

Offer your availability always, but your advice only when asked. If your child is reluctant to discuss a particular topic, don’t insist he tell you what’s on his mind. Too much nagging will turn into a power play between you, which will only increase the likelihood that he’ll clam up. Instead, let him attempt to solve things by himself — a sure sign to him that you support his growing independence and a great way for him to build self-esteem. At the same time, remind him that you’re always available should he seek advice or assistance.

Don’t invade your teenager’s space. Show the same respect for your adolescent’s privacy that you would show for any adult relative. Never read her mail or listen in on personal conversations. And avoid going into her room to tidy up when she’s not at home. She’ll resent your snooping and you’ll resent having to clean up after her. You can certainly set guidelines, such as prohibiting food in bedrooms, but a teenager is old enough to maintain her own room.

Teach your teen that the family phone is for the whole family. If your child talks on the family’s telephone excessively, tell him he can talk for 15 minutes, but then he must stay off the phone for at least an equal amount of time. This not only frees up the line so that other family members can make and receive calls, but teaches your teen moderation and discipline. Or if you are open to the idea, allow your talkative teen his own phone that he pays for with his allowance or a part-time job.

Mirror only positive feelings about physical appearance. Most teenagers are hypersensitive about how they look. Although they may be highly critical about the way others look or dress, they are often unable to handle such criticism directed toward them. Self-image is very important to adolescents, so keep a cool head about fashions your teen chooses to wear. While you need not constantly compliment your child’s appearance (which may actually put too much emphasis on physical attractiveness), you should look for ways to support and reinforce any positive comments your adolescent makes about herself.

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