Preparing your child for their teenage years

As children edge closer to becoming teenagers, it can bring up a vast array of fears and questions for parents. Let’s see what you can do to prepare.

Aside from some troubled times with toddlers, the teenage years are renowned for being the most challenging stage of raising a child. For parents and children alike, this can be a turbulent time filled with changes, arguments and general disharmony.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way though, and there are steps you can take to make the whole situation easier. One fear in particular that many parents of teenagers experience is that their teen will sense that they are unsure how to proceed with parenting. This lack of certainty can bring about instability and put real pressure on positive family dynamics. A proactive approach in order to prepare for the upcoming challenges is advisable. Every household will experience an adjustment and settling period at the very least, due in no small part to the massive hormonal changes the child is going through. Let’s take a look at what you can do to ferry your family safely across the choppy waters of this developmental stage.

Start with the basics

While they’re far from adults, teenagers aren’t the same as younger children. They are more capable, seasoned and hungry for new experiences. Trying to treat them exactly the same as a younger child will often lead to friction. It’s natural for teens to try to push the boundaries of what you will allow. In fact, this is a healthy part of their development.

Don’t dissolve all of the rules, simply expand them to suit the kind of life that teenagers live. They will want to socialise and they’re entitled to do that. Sit down with them and agree on core rules such as how long they can stay out with their friends and where they can go. Try not to just present these updated rules to your child without their input, as they’re more likely to bend, break or even outright reject them.

Parenting isn’t a black and white process. These rules should be upheld the majority of the time but there should also be some room for changes. Nobody can live an enjoyable life without breaking a single rule and we shouldn’t expect our teens to be any different.

If there is a special event that falls outside their usual curfew, for example, consider allowing them to go. You could even have an agreed upon number of special outings per month where your teenager doesn’t have to abide by the rules as strictly. In these circumstances, there should however be an agreed rule about when they are due home, as opposed to leaving it as a completely open-ended arrangement.

Respect their independence 

Teenagers will naturally begin to look for ways to increase their own independence. While this a normal step that mirrors their increased ability, they don’t always understand what they’re capable of and what they’ll need help with. Here you can step in, offering them increased independence in certain areas that are safe to do so, while keeping the more strict rules in place where you know they’re not quite ready to operate alone. Making their own lunches or walking to school with their friends might be ways in which they can express their independence. Whereas going out all weekend and doing whatever they please is probably a step too far. Identify the areas that your soon-to-be-teenager will succeed with some more independence and guard them against becoming overwhelmed or even getting themselves into trouble.

Let them talk

All parents think that they know what’s best for their teen and, for the most part, they do. Every individual is unique and has their own needs, and your child is no different. One of the very best things that you can do is to push against your urge to tell your teen what to do and instead to give them space to express themselves. Foster a safe space for them to speak their mind freely, albeit respectfully, and they will be far less likely to keep secrets from you.

Make a point of regularly sitting down with your child to speak openly with them. Encourage them to share their thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to keep up to date with the multitude of changes they’re going through, social environments they may be trying to weave their way through and anything else that’s on their mind. Your teenager’s mind doesn’t have to be a locked door to you. If you’re honest, gentle and loving with them, they may just hand you the key.

Get social media savvy

Social media is a core aspect of being a teen these days and there isn’t really a way around it. It serves as the source of so much of their social life, their entertainment and sometimes even their education. Alongside any positives, there is a catalogue of well-documented negatives, whether it be cyberbullying, a negative impact on mental health and even more dangerous forces.

Completely banning social media is likely to do more damage than good to your teenager, particularly if they get a lot of joy from it. Firstly, educate yourself on what apps they’re using, how they work and what their uses are. Then you can have a conversation with your teen while being up to speed on the topics you’ll be discussing. Most teens are reasonable and will understand that these apps have the potential for bad as well as good. One solution that works for many parents is impose a time limit on their teen’s phone use. As with screen time, this limit allows your child to enjoy themselves and catch up with their friends but it prevents it from dominating their life.

Avoid hovering

Giving our children the extra freedom they need can be challenging. Feelings of anxiety and fear around losing control are common. When you do decide the time is right to pass over certain responsibilities to your teen, take care to do so with no catches. That is to say, if you’re going to allow them to prepare their own meals, don’t stand at their shoulder watching their every move. Give them the space to do it themselves, safe in the knowledge that they can call you for help if they run into trouble.

The same applies to socialising. If you choose to allow them more freedom in this area, try not to dictate their calendar or inject yourself into the situation. Again, let them know that you are there to support them and to help in any way you can. You’re simply taking a step back and watching on from the sidelines.

The bigger picture

Your precious child turning into a beautiful, mature (and sometimes rebellious!) teenager is a part of parenting that is to be celebrated, not feared. Yes, there will be challenges but you have what it takes to guide them through this process safely. There are plenty of aspects to be prepared for, and potential pitfalls to leap over. The main takeaway is this – keep your eyes on the bigger picture. Your teen will inevitably make mistakes, overstep boundaries and argue with you. That’s just another part of the journey. Maintain your focus on fostering a loving, communicative relationship with them and all will be well.

 Image Credit: Shutterstock

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