By Kelsey Crago, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.
During adolescence, it’s normal for your child to want more independence, test boundaries, and make decisions you don’t understand. According to Stanford Medicine, it’s developmentally appropriate for a teenager’s focus to shift from family relationships to peer relationships. When you combine this change in priorities with the myriad of physical and emotional changes during the teen years, it’s easy to feel lost, like you don’t even know your child anymore.
Your relationship with your child will look different during each stage of their life, from infancy to adulthood. As your child’s needs change, it can be beneficial to take steps to refresh your relationship. Let’s look at some strategies to help maintain a healthy relationship with your teen.
1. Spend time together. Positive parent relationships are important for healthy development. Prioritize spending time with your teen. If you have tried and they
don’t seem interested, consider letting them choose what you do together. Let your teen teach you about their interests.
2. Model healthy behaviors. Modeling remains an effective form of education into the teen and adult years. Let your teen see you taking steps to manage your physical health, mental health, and day-to-day responsibilities. Show accountability for missteps along the way.
3. Encourage independence. Empower your child to make their own decisions – what to wear, which elective classes to take, and which extracurricular activities to participate in. Your teen is working to develop a sense of identity. Allowing them to make decisions (with guidance) helps them develop positive self-esteem, judgment and problem-solving skills.
4. Set boundaries with your teen. Although you have a young adult in the house, you are still the main adult. Teens thrive when given structure and boundaries, even if they grumble about it along the way. Allow space for autonomy and choice, but know you provide the ultimate say in situations.
5. Show that you care. With limited time together, it’s easy to get right to the business of grades, chores, and responsibilities with your teen. Take time to focus on the positive, too. Try small acts like leaving a note in their lunchbox or on their mirror, sending a text to ask how their big test went, or verbally expressing how much they mean to you. A few words go a long way!
6. Keep communication open. Check in with your teen to see how they are doing and really listen. It’s tempting to dive into advice giving, correction, or discipline mode, but try just being there as a listening ear. Teens are more likely to come to you in times of need when they know you’ll listen and not just lecture.
Parenting a teen is no easy task – neither is being a teen. A healthy relationship takes time and effort. These quick, easy methods support a positive relationship and healthy adolescent brain development. Show your teen you care and don’t hesitate to reach out to your Youth First Social Worker for support.