Teenagers seek to discover a positive identity that expresses their individuality. Peers, movie and rock stars, and other persons they value, influence their decisions. Changes in personal appearance are hallmarks of normal experimentation in identity by teens. Monitoring and some rule setting may be required, but ignore smaller battles in favor of bigger ones that affect health, safety, and well-being.
Making changes in your communication style or speaking habits, if necessary, can be tough, but will improve your teenager’s ability to listen. Not effective and likely to reap negative returns: Preaching, sarcasm in correcting behavior, ridicule, put-downs, yelling and screaming, comparing the teen’s behavior with more successful peers, and not being able to admit when you are wrong or say you are sorry.
Feeling accepted and being part of a peer group are crucial to teens. They feel abnormal when they are different from their peers. But all peer groups are not equal. Some may experiment with anti-social behavior, alcohol and drug use, or seek to dominate members’ beliefs. Talk about peer pressure early to help teens evaluate peer groups later and make choices that match their values.
Sex & Sexuality
It is normal for teens to begin showing interest in the opposite sex. There may be sexual experimentation, worry, or unstated feelings or fears about sexual orientation. Studies show that most teenagers do not have sexual intercourse in high school. Still, giving the right information to teens is important. Communicate your values and state your concerns about dating and sexual activities. Doing so in an honest way is better than keeping silent.
Teens struggle with their self-esteem. Over-valuation of what peers think, hormonally-driven changes, and the brain’s refusal to do the right thing at the right time can make for a difficult period. Help your teen feel valued by giving reassurance that they are loved no matter what. More importantly, avoid negative comments that can prey easily on a fragile sense of self.
Parenting teens has always been an art and a science, with a bit of luck thrown in. Although potentially frustrating and stressful, parenting teens can still be fun, exciting, and fulfilling. Here are a few tips to consider. None are designed to “control” the adolescent or guarantee stress-free parenting, but they can give you a head start at influencing a healthy, happy, and safe adolescent journey to adulthood.
Freedom & Limits
Begin treating your teenager like an adult, but do not always expect adult behavior. You will need to set limits and establish boundaries. Look for the balance of what you can accept and what the teen wants. Monitor, and let the teen know you are aware of activities. Be reasonable, practice “letting go,” and decide what are safe risks that promote independence.
Emotional ups and downs make teen years difficult. Teens may struggle with controlling their emotions and be unable to verbalize how they feel. Empathy, the ability to acknowledge how your teen feels, listening, and offering support are important. Avoid statements that send a message to “snap out of it”, such as “everyone feels that way.” Learning about symptoms of depression can help you determine whether your teen may be experiencing depression.
Health & Fitness
Irregular meal patterns, skipping breakfast and fasting to lose weight are not uncommon with teens. Eating disorders frequently begin at this age, and girls are at the most risk. Awareness about substance abuse and eating disorders can alert you to signs and symptoms. Act early with professional guidance if you suspect problems. Lack of rest is also a hazard of teenage living and contributes to moodiness and irritability. Help make sure your teen eats a well-balanced diet and gets adequate rest.
Thinking About Life
Teens experience new ways of looking at the world. They apply abstract thinking to values, morals, issues of authority, empathy, relationships, and justice. They try new philosophies and “think about thinking.” Questioning familiar values may cause distress for parents. Express your personal position about social, political, moral, and spiritual issues, and maintain your established traditions of family, cultural, or religious rituals. Support the positive aspects of intellectual growth
What the EAP Can Do
Every parent’s experience of raising a teenager is different. More parents probably need support than ask for it. If you have concerns about your teenager’s behavior, the EAP can help. Resources for specific issues you face and general information on parenting are available. The EAP can help you find the answers you need.