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How to Parent a Teenager: 6 Things to Keep in Mind so You'll Stay Sane and Enjoy the Ride

Updated on May 20, 2017
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I love being a mom and teacher and sharing what I've learned about raising confident, creative, and compassionate kids.

Parenting a teenager doesn't need to become an ordeal if you know the stages they're experiencing.
Parenting a teenager doesn't need to become an ordeal if you know the stages they're experiencing. | Source

Parenting teenagers is a challenge because we're often at cross purposes. As we grow older, most of us parents strive to keep a positive outlook, eschewing negative forces that drain us of our dwindling energy. We eschew anything or anyone who spoils our spirit or messes with our mojo. Our teens, conversely, are entering a new stage in their development when negativity has great allure. They invite it into their lives and so it enters ours as well. Because of this tug-of-war between light and dark, parenting teenagers is often stressful and wearying. But with a healthy perspective, a good sense of humor, and an understanding that these changes during adolescence are normal, we'll see that parenting teenagers is not so bad after all.

1. Keep in Mind Their Negativity Is a Normal Stage of Development, Not a Permanent Personality Trait.

It's easy for us parents to become drained by our teenager's steady flow of whining and complaining, even seeing it as a personal attack on us as parents. For too many evenings, I let my son's unfavorable dinner reviews overpower my good mood as he railed about the meal being too spicy, too dry, too chewy, too bland, or downright inedible. In addition to issuing him a lifetime ban from watching Food Network, I became resolved to stay calm and unaffected, not taking it personally. I knew if I reacted to his comments I'd only be encouraging the behavior. Besides, I was confident that my dinners were not disgusting (I'm a darn good cook), but just a convenient target for his pent-up frustration from a long day at middle school. After all, who in a teenager's life is an easier mark than dear old sweet lovable mom?

It help us parents to know that negativity is a normal stage of development and our teenagers won't stay like this forever. They're no longer sweet little kids – thrilled about losing a tooth, eager about Saturday's soccer game, and enthralled with their school. They've reached a point where being negative is cool. To hang out with buddies and gripe about their parents, teachers, and classmates is what teens like to do and it comes with benefits. When teens gather for a “bitch fest,” they're connecting with one another over common experiences. It helps them feel less alone. Plus, it gives us parents a break from the emotionally exhausting experience of listening to all their complaints!

Teenagers Bond With One Another When They Get Together and Gripe

Complaining has its benefits! It makes kids feel connected and not so alone.
Complaining has its benefits! It makes kids feel connected and not so alone. | Source

2. Keep in Mind They Need Us to Listen, Not Intervene.

Teenagers are especially negative at home because it's a safe place to show the worst part of themselves. Debbie Pincus, a counselor for more than 25 years, says teenagers sound off to parents as a way to cope with stress. Mom and dads, she cautions, should listen but not offer solutions, try to fix the problem, or be judgmental. Pincus states: “Negativity and complaining are actually ways to manage anxiety. When your child complains, she feels better because she's expressing herself and venting her worries and fears. If you don't react to it from your own anxiety, your child will move on.”

3. Keep in Mind They-re Self-Centered at This Point But Won't Stay That Way.

When I was a rookie kindergarten teacher, I remember gathering my young students for our morning meeting and telling them I had a headache. I enlisted their help – to share toys, get along with one another, and speak softly – and they all enthusiastically agreed. Yet, within minutes, the room was noisy and chaotic and any concern they had shown for my well-being was forgotten. I realize now how ignorant I was about child development back then, thinking that these kids were rotten, spoiled, runny-nosed bastards. I now know -- wiser and more experienced -- they were just being typical self-centered 5-year-olds.

Being egocentric is also a characteristic of our teenagers. An important part of their brains that controls judgment, insight, impulse control, and emotion – the frontal lobe – is not fully developed in teens. Therefore, they struggle with evaluating the consequences of their actions and how those actions impact others. They live in the moment and focus on themselves.

Once again there's no need for us parents to worry that this self-absorption will last forever. However, parents should plan to be patient. New research shows that a teenager's brain may not reach its full development until his mid twenties or possibly even his thirties!

Furthermore, new research suggests that teenagers are not yet fully capable of reading another person's emotions. This makes them seem even more egocentric and less empathetic. Their ability to accurately interpret non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions as well as verbal cues such as tone of voice may not kick in until the last stage of their brain's development.

4. Keep in Mind They Need to Talk About Themselves and Figure Out Who They Are.

We parents often become frustrated with our teens, not appreciating how different their brains are from ours. We want our kids to look at the future – thinking about college and careers – and ponder the past to learn from their mistakes. Yet, the teenage brain is not yet ready to do this.

Once again parents need to stay calm and understand that being self-absorbed is a normal part of development. There's no need to start thinking your kid has narcissistic personality disorder. Just remember it won't last forever and, in the meantime, talk to your child about his favorite topic – himself!

Your Teen Is a Work in Progress

5. Keep in Mind They Still Benefit From Eating Dinner With the Family.

When my son arrives home from middle school, there are only two things on his mind: getting something to eat and spending some time alone. After all, he has been surrounded by hundreds of other teens for seven long hours. He needs to decompress and who can blame him! The last thing he wants is for me to ask him a litany of questions about his day.

As a parent, I've come to realize that when we speak with our teenagers is just as important as what we say. Conversation flows better when we talk with our teens on their schedules, not ours. Just because it's convenient for us to listen on the drive home from school, doesn't mean that's the ideal time for them to open up and get chatty. In fact, it might be the worst time!

Eating dinner together provides the perfect opportunity to talk and listen with your teen – to television, no cell phones, no i-pads. According to Joseph Califano Jr., president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “one of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in their teens' lives is by having frequent family dinners.” In fact, eating dinner as a family has been proven beneficial to kids in many ways. It helps them get better grades, keep a proper weight, and deal with stress. It also helps them stay away from cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana.

Eating Dinner Together Helps Kids Deal With Stress!

There are many benefits to eating dinner together. It's a good time for teens to relax, open up, and share their thoughts.
There are many benefits to eating dinner together. It's a good time for teens to relax, open up, and share their thoughts. | Source

6. Keep in Mind the Teen Years Should Be Celebrated and Enjoyed.

When we're ready to have a family, we begin to feel that ache and proclaim: “I want a baby!” We imagine playing peek-a-boo, buying cute little onesies, and pushing him through the park in a stroller. It's a rare person who skips ahead to the teen years and announces: “ I can't wait to have one of those!"

Yet, the teen years have their own unique rewards for us parents. I'm no longer planning my son's life – signing him up for soccer, buying his wardrobe, setting up play dates. I'm now standing back and watching him design his own life. He has discovered a real passion for acting and theater geeks have become his new tribe. Who knew this would be his path with two such introverted parents? Yes, he's negative and self-absorbed, but that just tells me he's developing as he should. In my opinion, teens get a bad rap. They really are fascinating beings, and they never need a diaper change!

This Book Will Help You Understand Your Role as the Parent of Teenagers

When my sons became teenagers, I wanted to teach them all the lessons I had learned about school, friends, jobs, and dating. I had that maternal urge to protect them from any hurt or harm. This book helped me understand that wasn't my role. My role was to listen, accept their feelings, and let them find solutions to their problems. I highly recommend this book to moms and dads who are confused about what their jobs are when parenting teens.

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    • letstalkabouteduc profile image
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      Nancy Mitchell 19 months ago from Bend, OR

      Yes. With teenagers, it seems like a lot of the parenting involves just waiting around until they're ready to talk. My sons never say much, but I'll be ready when they finally do open up! Thanks for reading!

    • Ebonny profile image

      Ebonny 19 months ago from UK

      You are SO right about teenagers not wanting to communicate directly after school (and sometimes this applies to younger children in my experience) and as you say parents shouldn't take it personally.

      Thankfully after something to eat and a little down time, they're usually much more "human" but yes, it's really frustrating when they respond with just a grunt to our attempts at conversation, especially if as a parent you have juggled your work responsibilities etc to make yourself available to collect your children from school or be there when they arrive home. My own parents were never there when I got home (not their fault) and so being around at the end of my kids school day was something I strived to do. Reading this, I'm realising I was possibly lucky not to have had them nagging me to communicate at this time when I was a teenager!

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image
      Author

      Nancy Mitchell 20 months ago from Bend, OR

      I can totally see how you thought your son had major problems since you had no brothers. I think it's easier to parent the opposite gender through the teen years. If I had daughters, I'd be more hurt by their complaining and criticizing. With my sons, I don't take it personally. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 20 months ago from The Caribbean

      Nancy this should be very encouraging for moms who still have teens in the house. I remember waiting for a super-serious diagnosis on my son when he was just being a normal teenager (I have no brothers). You share some very healthy perspectives.

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