Parenting teenagers

It's the terrible twos all over again, but with driving! Your child may be moody, cranky, or sullen. Grades may drop. You may worry about setting limits - wanting to help them gain independence, but fearing their inexperience and risk taking. You may wonder if they're using drugs or being fully honest with you. Their anger and moodiness may trigger your anger, fear or both. Click here to learn more about how I support parents raising teens.

Most parents feel frustrated by their kids at different points.

But the teenage years are probably the hardest (at least the "terrible twos" only last a year, and there's no driving involved!).

Here are some signs that you may be raising a teenager:

  • The person who thought you were the best mom or best dad EVER just a couple years ago, now thinks you have the intelligence of rice.
  • Everything is extreme - horrible or wonderful.
  • There is a phone attached to their head - except when they're texting.
  • They abbreviate everything and get exasperated when you don't understand.
  • They need you desperately one minute, and want nothing to do with you the next.

When these behaviors are so "normal," it can be hard to know when there's a more serious problem. And when there is a serious problem, it may be hard to know how to help, what limits to set, how to help your kids learn and grow safely into responsible adults.

Parents need a lot of support during these years especially when kids develop real behavior problems - bad grades, drug or alcohol abuse, disregard for others - to name a few. If your spouse disagrees with you about how to handle your teen, it’s even harder. If you're a single parent or co-parenting with an ex, this brings added challenges. And if your teen years were hard, this time can bring up anger, stress, confusion or helplessness - feeling like "I don't want to do what my parents did, but I'm not sure what else to do."

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If Your Kid is "Acting Out" or Misbehaving

When kids misbehave, there is always a reason. Behavior is a form of communication. When you understand what they're trying to say with their actions, you are in a better position to help them resolve the problem and get back on track.

Kids usually test the limits or rules at this stage. It's your job to enforce rules, keeping your kid safe, teaching respect for self and others, and helping your kid develop empathy and responsibility. Each kid is different. So you may have to adjust your parenting style to fit your kid's developing personality. Therapy can help you evaluate your parenting techniques and find options that are more effective.

It's also helpful to learn about what kids experience developmentally. This is a time when the brain goes through very fundamental changes. Hormones rage. Kids want more independence, but may have fears about being "untried" in the world. They need lots of support, even though they may act like everything is "under control." As a parent, this may bring up discomfort for you. It's hard to see your kids struggle. And as much as you want to help them become more independent, it may be hard to let go. You may want support to separate your needs as a parent from their needs as a maturing teen.

Peer relationships are intensive and other kids may lack empathy. This can leave your teenager vulnerable to peer pressure and feelings of shame and depression if they don't fit in. Behavior problems may be a sign that something or someone is hurting them. Instead of asking for help, they may only be able to show their pain by turning around and hurting someone else. Finding ways to talk to your kids so they can open up really helps.

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Rude Teens

Throughout time, being rude, insulting, or putting others down has been equated to being "cool" for teenagers. This is often defensive behavior - I'll hurt them before they can hurt me. Or it can be attention or approval seeking from other kids.

Rudeness is a signal that it's time to teach empathy. Help your kids imagine what it feels like to be the other person. Ask about times when they've felt hurt by someone's rude behavior. Model appropriate behaviors. Communicate with respect and kindness. Set and enforce limits about what's acceptable.

Talk about your personal values - not as a lecturing parent, but as a human being. Talk about ways you've been hurt or mistakenly hurt others. When you treat kids with same respect you want from them, it helps. When they feel valued, they are more likely to value others. It may also help to explain that behavior that may be fine with friends, are not necessarily okay with adults, siblings, employers, etc. Humor works too. Kids often respond well to "this is what it's like to be an old person."

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Spoiled Kids

As parents, we want the best for our kids. We don't want them to struggle or suffer. We want them to have a good life. Yet, in making life easier for them, we may accidentally foster a sense of entitlement, dependency, or an expectation that others will always do for them.

If your kid is unmotivated or stuck, gets bored easily, needs constant help or attention, or looks down on others with less, it's time to step in. Begin giving your kid manageable tasks to accomplish. If he/she gets stuck. Don't rush in to fix things. Ask what's hard and ask your kid what he/she thinks would make it easier. Let them problem solve. Don't let them wiggle out of the task!

If your kid is really stuck do something together or as a family. Volunteer together, perhaps exposing your kid to people who are less fortunate. Let your kid have the experience of being helpful to others, being able to do for someone else. Talk about how good it feels to be kind.

Your kid may be taking material things for granted. If so, find a way that he/she can earn their keep. Base allowance or the purchase of new gadgets on the successful and quality completion of projects. Let you kids know that they are doing good work when they are. And if you have criticism, make it constructive. "This spot is still a little rough, try it this way," feels more supportive than "You didn't do this right." Encourage your kids to take pride and pleasure in their work, their words, and their actions toward others. Model these behaviors whenever possible.

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My Kids Don't Listen,

Teenagers know how to tune us out. If they feel dismissed or misunderstood, they're even more likely to stop listening. There's a great book, "How to Talk so Kids will Listen and How to Listen so Kids will Talk. The essence of this book is that when parents learn how to listen deeply - not just to words, but also emotional tone and body language - and then express what they've heard without judgment, it opens up parent-child communication.

As you listen deeply to your kids, they learn from your example how to listen to others. It's useful to respect what your kids say - even if you don't agree with them. They can sense judgment, are very sensitive to any kind of rejection or disapproval, and they'll clam up if it doesn't feel emotionally safe to talk. This can be frustrating. They may say something that makes you want to scream. It's essential to learn how to share your opinions, set limits and enforce rules in ways that your kids can hear without feeling shamed or disregarded.

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My Spouse/Partner Disagrees with Me about the Kids

When parents disagree about parenting, bad things often happen. Kids learn to play one parent off the other. The couple relationship gets disrupted and kids feel guilty. One parent always feels like the "bad guy."

You don't have to agree with your spouse on everything, but you do have to present a united front to your kids. When your kids see you as a cohesive unit, they feel more secure. And when you make parenting decisions together, you strengthen your relationship as a couple (which in turn strengthens the whole family).

Before you make decisions about the big things, spend time alone together negotiating. When a problem arises in the moment, see if you can buy time. "Your mom/dad and I need to talk this over and we'll let you know." Some decisions are urgent, and need to happen before discussion is possible. Try not to engage in a power struggle. Later, when there is time, debrief about how the decision was made, what worked and what didn't work.

It's crucial not to bring your kids into alliances with one or the other parent. This provokes terrible feelings of guilt and betrayal toward the parent who is left out.

If you're having difficulty getting on the same page, therapy might be useful. As each of you learns more about the other person's concerns, the roots of their emotional responses and needs you will develop empathy for each other. When that empathy is present, it acts like a cushion, allowing you to come to mutual decisions and respect each others differences.

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Am I Putting too Much Pressure on My Teenager?

You want your kids to perform at their best - but it's important to teach balance too. When parents are more invested in grades, sports or performance than the kids, something is out of balance. It's the parent's job to support kids in doing their best, but to leave that responsibility in the kids' hands. Knowing your individual kids needs helps you know how to help them achieve without creating undue stress or power struggles.

Signs that stress is too big - sudden drop in grades, depression, drugs, edos, cutting, withdrawn

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Motivating my kids to achieve

Find out what their passions are and communicate without judgment - express excitement and positive feedback when they discover something they love. Teens are going through so many changes, just getting through these years can feel like an accomplishment. If there is one thing your kid is invested in, then try to foster that. When kids feel stuck, it can help to break things down into smaller steps, find external support like tutors, and then build a reward system with your kids - so they learn how to reward themselves for hard work. Make it fun.

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Single parenting

Learn to ask for help and build a support system. It does take a village to raise a child. You can't do it all and you don't have to. Find adult mentors for your kids to turn to or to help out when things get rough or your kids need more than you can give at the moment. Forgive yourself for being human and needing help. Aunts, uncles, coaches, teachers, close family friends are all people who may be able to help. Know that you need extra care too. You don't have a partner to rely on when you're tired or stuck - so you need really good friends and families.

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You might also be interested in resolving childhood traumas or abuse.

For more information or to book a session,
contact Heather Marchman, Marriage and Family Therapist.

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