3 Ways to Have a Healthy Relationship With Teenage Children
#1. Don't Expect Them to Be Teenagers
This one may seem a little weird. Don't teenagers hate being treated like children? Shouldn't we accept that they are growing up? Yes, of course, they are growing up and may want to change things about their habits or activities, but parents trying to be "supportive" and encourage these changes often do more harm than good.
For example, you and the rest of your family are heading up to the mall for a few hours. Your teenage daughter has shown resistance to being seen with you public recently, so you decide not to prod her to come with you. This seems like a very respectful thing to do that takes into account her feelings and opinions, but when you return she is upset and on-edge. What went wrong? Well, many things could have gone wrong while you were away. She could have been caught up in friend drama, boy drama, or any number of all the other kinds of drama. Or she could be feeling hurt. Maybe she really didn't want to go to the mall with you, but maybe you should have at least talked with her about it. Even knowing that you wanted to spend time around her probably would have felt good.
Some people say that this is an unreasonable expectation for parents to be "enabling" their kids to demand constant attention and validation. I say, spending 30 extra seconds to make sure your children know you care about them is only "enabling" them to have a part of the self-worth they are so lacking at this time in their lives.
Expecting them to be removed and emotionally distant from you only re-enforces the idea that they should be. Always give them the choice to be an independent teen or your baby girl. When they need a break from the high school soap opera, you will both be glad you didn't close that door.
#2. Be a Friend First
Everyone will tell you that to raise children you need to be a parent first, and a friend second. This is true, but only while you are raising children. By age fifteen or sixteen, you are no longer teaching kids how to behave, but showing (almost) adults how to live. The simple truth is, teenagers do not listen to parents. When you try to be a parent first, you end up being neither, with absolutely no control over your hormonal and reckless child. That is not a position anyone wants to be in.
Obviously, you don't want to be the kind of friend who helps them slash their ex's tires, but if you can be the one who suggests going for ice cream instead, you have a lot more power than the threat of grounding ever will. The problem with relying on threats and discipline is that children don't learn how to behave, they learn how to not get caught. People always say that we have to punish children to teach them that the real world has consequences, but they seem to forget to tell their kids just what those "real-world consequences" are.
It's like this: "If you ever get a tattoo, you will be grounded for a year without your phone!" vs. "If you get a tattoo right there you might have trouble being a police officer. I know you have been studying hard to meet the requirements, and I wouldn't want you to miss out." Could both of these approaches work? Yes, but out of these two kids, which one do you think will be most likely to run to the tattoo parlor the second he is eighteen and out of mom's house? Teens seem to be hard-wired to disobey authority, so why would you want to paint yourself as one, when a clear-headed voice of reason gets the job done just as well?
Are you a friend or a parent first?
#3. Don't Invalidate "Teenage Drama"
While it may seem stupid and trivial to you (and it probably is), the experiences and feelings your teen is dealing with are very real to them. Imagine how bad it would feel to be stressed and upset about something major in your life, only to be told it was nothing and your feelings were stupid. It doesn't matter if it won't affect them in five years, or even five minutes! The emotional impact is the same. Of course, you want to teach them perspective, but you can do this without invalidating their struggle.
The most important thing for them to know is that you support them, and they are allowed to feel upset about things as long as they learn how to deal with it in an appropriate manner. This also builds strong foundations so that when they are an adult and dealing with real-life issues, they have healthy coping mechanisms to fall back on. The biggest thing here is that no emotion is inappropriate for any situation if you can react appropriately. Emotions cannot be wrong, they are simply our bodies way of responding to the world around us.