The teenage years have never been easy — for child or parent. But today those years are more complicated than ever. Teens are vulnerable to so many more influences than we were 20 or 30 years ago.
First things first — refine your parenting style.
If you’ve always considered yourself restrictive, you’re going to have to loosen the reigns a little. If you’ve tended toward leniency, now may be the time to enforce a higher expectation. The truth is that neither extreme is productive parenting for a teenager. Try to keep an open line of communication and build trust, while at the same time maintaining your role as a parent.
Next, pick your battles.
How clean your teenager keeps his room is not nearly as important as who he’s hanging out with. Even if you don’t like it, praise your teen’s fashion sense (as long as it’s not disrespectful or inappropriate), but also establish ground rules early for the serious issues that involve safety. Curfew, the internet, alcohol, and drugs are all topics that warrant frank discussion and boundary setting.
Get to know their social circles.
Meet your teen’s friends — and their parents when possible. Respectfully ask what they’ll be doing, where they’re going, who they will be with, and what parental supervision they’ll have. Be clear about curfew. Now here’s your responsibility: keep your cell phone with you at all times. Even if it’s something as simple as a flat tire, you want to be available.
More importantly, you want your teen to feel comfortable about calling you for help if he winds up in a tough spot. The best teen with the best intentions still lacks experience and can make a bad decision, so it’s important for you as the parent to respond with care and provide room for forgiveness. As far as punishment, not every situation warrants the same consequences. The expectation that you’ll bring down the hammer for any misstep will only lead to secrecy and closed off communication.
Keep an eye on social media.
Even though there are many positives to internet use and social media, there are also plenty of dangers. Set rules for the sites your child visits and limit recreational screen time to two hours per day. Teach your teen to practice the same appropriate and respectful behavior you would expect in a face-to-face conversation.
Help your teenager understand how vulnerable he can be to internet predators and social media spoofers. Instill these basic rules:
- Don’t accept a friend request from anyone you don’t know in person.
- Don’t accept an invitation from a friend of a friend.
- Do not give out personal information (birthday, address, social security number, etc.) over the internet at all.
- Abide by the established curfew. That means no cell phones in bed.
It’s not impossible.
The sooner you begin to foster fair and open dialogue, along with an expectation of behavior, the easier the road will be. As important as building a relationship is, remember that teens still need boundaries. They aren’t adults just yet.
Author of this article
Caroline Sitzman, PA-C, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist and located at IU Health Physicians Family Practice – Artistry, 404 E. Washington Street, Suite A, in Indianapolis. She can be reached by calling the office at 317.963.2610.