Parenting teenagers can be scary. On the one hand, their issues can sometimes be reminiscent of the simple problems of earlier childhood: curfews, lack of cooperation, household chores, report cards, rudeness. They can also include new issues, such as teenage dating, teen smoking, teenage manipulative behavior, and getting a driver’s license. On the other hand, however, teenage issues scan be much bigger and scarier now: teenage pregnancy, teenage drinking and drugs, troubled teens, suicidal teens, teens at risk, teens in trouble with the law, reckless behavior, school dropouts, teenage violence, teens living on the streets, teens running away from home — all sorts of things can and do happen to kids this age. Are you ready to deal with it? Is trouble inevitable?
Positive Parenting of Teens
Although parents should be prepared for anything, there are some tips for parenting teens that can help prevent teenage drama and disaster. Some children are more at risk for troubled teen behavior just because of their genetic make-up. For instance, parenting ADHD teens can be more challenging because impulsivity and poor judgment (characteristics of all teenagers) occurs even more intensely and frequently in this population. However, good parenting techniques can help reduce serious problems in all adolescents. When problems do occur, good parenting techniques can help resolve them more quickly, without trauma and with good long-term results. The key, then, is parenting skill.
Fortunately, there are many resources available for parenting teens. Parenting classes for preteens is an excellent place to start. But there are also specific classes for parenting teens, as well as books and numerous online resources on the subject. It is easy today to find good advice for parenting teens, so there is certainly no reason to remain in the dark, confused and frightened. Get the facts, the theories and the strategies and have them ready! Whether your issue is teens and single parenting or parenting teens with Asperger’s syndrome, or whether you just want support for parenting teens — it’s all available in print, online, in audio and audio-visual — it’s everywhere. Chat with other parents you know, join parenting forums, do anything! Make sure you do something – because the more you know about the world of your teenager and the kinds of issues today’s kids are dealing with, the more you will be able to effectively parent your adolescent.
The Most Important Skill You’ll Need
Exploring the issues and gathering information is essential. However, there is one skill you will need no matter what issue you and your teen are dealing with. Whether you are addressing insolence, teenage drunkenness, drug use or a messy room, you will need this one skill. Whether your teenager has just presented her brand new body piercing or whether she’s trying to walk out the door in inappropriate clothes or whether you’ve discovered she’s been cutting herself—no matter what it is you are dealing with, you will need this one skill. It’s called Listening.
Listening sounds as if it is a simple, anyone-can-do-it unimpressive skill. However, it is far from that! Why do you think people pay psychologists and other professional listeners such big bucks? It is because no one else really knows how to listen to them! Here are some important tips about how to be a good listener for your kids:
Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. Repeat what you hear. Slowly. Show you heard it. Show you understand it. Show you accept that it is real for your teenager. Refrain from arguing, criticizing, advising, preaching, lecturing or even teaching. Refrain from mocking, correcting or fixing. Just breathe slowly and deeply. Stay calm, quiet and thoughtful. Listen.
Let’s practice. Suppose you discover that your teenager has been going to parties that you don’t approve of. Suppose you suspect there has been sex, alcohol and drugs. Suppose you want to find out the facts from your child. Your Listening might sound something like this:
- Parent: It seems you’ve been going to those parties that I asked you not to go to.
- Teen: Yeah, I had to go. Everyone goes — I can’t be the only one not going.
- Parent: (breathe, relax, go slow) I see. Everyone else goes — you can’t be the only one left behind.
- Teen: And anyway, I’m seventeen now. I have to make my own decisions. If I decide to have sex or do drugs or whatever that’s my decision.
- Parent: (go slow and quiet) So at your age you feel it’s time to cut the apron strings— you’ve got to make decisions on your own.
The conversation could go on this way for as long as the teen is willing to talk and for as long as the parent can keep his or her emotions settled. After a lot of listening has occurred, and ONLY after a lot of listening has occurred, the parent can raise concerns or questions or ask permission to offer some advice. Everything has to be respectful because if it isn’t the teen will stop communicating, cast the parent as the enemy and be impervious to influence. The parent will have no educational power whatsoever.
Of course, there are other essential skills parents must have in order to do effective parenting for teens (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for the complete tool set). However, for anyone currently doing active parenting of teens, and all the more so for anyone parenting difficult teens, the mastering of the Listening skill is crucial.