Parenting Strategies For Supporting And Guiding Your Child Through Adolescence
Parenting can come with both joys and challenges in every phase of your child’s life. As they grow, you must constantly adjust to their ever-evolving needs in order to best support them at different stages.
Many parents and guardians find it difficult to know how to relate to and support their children during adolescence in particular. Read on for a brief overview of some of the life changes your teenager may be facing, plus strategies you might consider for parenting them through this time.
The Basics Of Adolescence
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adolescence is the life phase between ages 10 and 19 when a person matures from childhood into adulthood. During this time, an individual will typically experience a variety of physical, emotional, and cognitive changes due to puberty, hormonal fluctuations, and brain development. They’re likely to begin thinking about who they are, what they value, what their sexual and gender identities are, what belief systems they adhere to, and what they want out of life.
While the general developments of this adolescent age range are common across most young people, the way in which they experience them may vary widely—as may the specific timeline on which they occur. The strategies discussed below apply to adolescents in general, but it’s important to take your own child’s unique situation and individuality into account as well.
Strategies To Consider For Parenting An Adolescent
There are no perfect parenting strategies or tactics that are guaranteed to work with every teenager. Plus, since this time of life is characterized by near-constant change, something that works now may not be as effective a few months down the road. Patience, empathy, and adaptability are usually key to being the parent or guardian of a teenager. That said, the following are strategies that may help parents support and guide their children through this phase of life.
1. Start Preparing Early
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, it’s best to start early when it comes to laying the foundation for being a supportive parent of an adolescent. Establishing a strong, healthy parent-child relationship from a young age can lead to a smoother transition into the pre-teen and teen years.
By providing a stable, safe home environment with an atmosphere of honesty, mutual trust, and respect, your child is more likely to feel comfortable, accepted, and supported as they grow up.
For example, beginning when they’re young, you might:
- Encourage your child to talk to you and maintain that open communication throughout their lives
- Teach them important life lessons like how to make decisions, take responsibility for themselves and their actions, set boundaries, and process disappointment or failure
- Instill a basic sense of responsibility and work ethic through household chores and schoolwork.
The sooner you start introducing moral and social lessons like these to your children, the more equipped they’re likely to feel as they enter the often turbulent years of adolescence.
2. Aim To Establish Open Communication
Because of adolescent brain development, the adolescent years can be challenging for both you and your child. There will likely be times when they need advice, support, or guidance, and establishing a dynamic of open communication can make them likelier to come to you in these cases
Recent research shows that what’s known as “sensitively attuned parenting” is one effective method of adapting to the challenges of raising teenagers. The practice focuses on the core tenets of positive engagement, supervision, guidance, and open communication in order to facilitate the continued development of an adolescent’s self-confidence and decision-making skills.
3. Offer Opportunities For Age-Appropriate Responsibilities
As your child matures into adolescence, they will likely crave more independence and control over their own lives. Offering them opportunities to make age-appropriate decisions can grant a measure of this while helping them learn fundamental life skills. This strategy can allow them to build self-confidence and autonomy, learn about consequences, and gain life experience too.
You might also task them with regular, age-appropriate responsibilities such as household chores so they can build a work ethic and learn how to take care of themselves.
4. Make Time Together A Priority
As your child grows up, consider making time spent together a priority. Even something as simple as eating meals together as often as possible can provide excellent opportunities for you to discuss the day together, reinforce family bonds, and encourage healthy eating habits.
According to an article on the Stanford Medicine Children’s Health website, prioritizing combined mealtimes is also one of the best methods for staying in touch with your adolescent’s life so you can spot and address any problems early on.
Other ways to spend intentional time with your teen could include:
- Taking a few minutes after school to discuss their day. If possible, being there after school can provide the structure and supervision that may prevent your adolescent from getting into trouble, and can make them feel heard and supported.
- Setting aside some time after dinner or before bed to check in. Listen to whatever they want to talk about and encourage the routine of this chat over time. It can give them a safe space to discuss anything that may be bothering them and can let them know that they’re a priority in your life.
- Organizing outings alone with them. Even something as simple as going for a walk or stopping for ice cream while grocery shopping can reinforce your bond with your child and make them feel valued. This time can be particularly important if the parents are especially busy and away from home a lot, or if the family has multiple children.
5. Listen Without Judgment
When your teenager does talk to you about their life, it’s typically important to listen without judgment if you want them to feel safe continuing to come to you. It’s usually best to resist the urge to interrupt, mock, criticize, or offer advice. If you simply listen and show interest in what they’re saying, your teenager is more likely to continue approaching you when they need to talk.
It may be helpful to work on honing your active listening ability, which is a useful life skill you can model for your child as well. The three components of this skill include nonverbal cues of engagement like nodding and eye contact, refraining from judgment, and asking clarification questions only if needed. According to a study in the International Journal of Listening, participants who were actively listened to showed greater conversational satisfaction and were more likely to view their conversation partner positively.
6. Know The Warning Signs Of Mental Health Issues
According to Penn Medicine, there are some common warning signs parents can watch for that may indicate a problem beyond the typical adolescent mood swings or rough patches. Getting familiar with key symptoms of mental illnesses that can affect teenagers—such as depression and anxiety—can equip you to recognize them if they ever appear in your child. If you notice changes like these, consider reaching out to their physician or to a mental health professional.
In general, some common symptoms of mental health issues in teenagers may include:
- Significant, sudden changes to sleeping patterns
- Significant, sudden changes to eating patterns
- Low energy or frequent fatigue
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies or activities
- Declining grades
- Self-isolation from friends and family
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of anxiety around others
- Challenges making and keeping friends
- Persistent feelings of sadness, worry, or hopelessness
How Therapy Can Help You Or Your Child
Your child’s adolescent years can be challenging for both you and them. If you’ve noticed that your teenager may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, it’s usually important to seek the help of a mental health professional since many disorders can be debilitating and even dangerous.
However, even if you don’t suspect your child of having a mental illness, they can likely still benefit from having the objective, nonjudgmental listening ear of a trained therapist with whom they can sort out and process their feelings. A trained therapist can offer the same to you as a parent if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of guiding your child through adolescence, which is common.
If you prefer in-person therapy, you can search for a provider in your local area. If you’re interested in the availability and affordability of online therapy, you might consider going through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. It can match you with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat for help with the challenges you may be facing. If you’re looking for support for your teen, a virtual therapy platform like TeenCounseling can match your child (age 13–18) with a licensed therapist in the same way with your consent.
Research suggests that both therapy formats can offer similar benefits for a variety of concerns and conditions. This means that, in most cases, you and/or your teen can choose the one that feels best for your situation.
What is the importance of parents' guidance in adolescence?
Parents play a major role in their child's development, including while the child is an adolescent. For example, parents often teach teens and pre-teens how to take responsibility for their belongings and household chores. They also teach the importance of thinking before acting and of setting limits.
Adolescence is a time of great change, making parenting especially important during this phase of their child's life. Adolescents undergo rapid emotional growth and physical changes. Having support and guidance from a caring parent can help a child maintain self-esteem throughout this sometimes confusing process.
How do you guide adolescence?
Parents can carefully guide their kids through adolescence by understanding what that developmental stage entails and by looking out for risky behavior.
During adolescence, a child continually experiments with becoming more independent and developing their own opinions. They may also focus less on their family relationships and spend more attention on their friendships and romantic relationships. While all of this is a normal part of development, adolescents may not yet be able to gauge the risk of certain behaviors, so they need parental support.
Without proper guidance, an adolescent may be tempted to engage in risky behaviors without fully understanding the potential negative outcomes. For example, they may engage in drug and alcohol use, high-speed driving, or unprotected sex, all of which could become dangerous.
The parents' job is to pay attention to their kids' changing levels of development throughout their teenage years and assess when they require continued supervision and when they can handle more freedom. Parents can identify their kids' maturity levels by engaging in positive, supportive conversations and really getting to know their adolescent child as a person. By fostering open communication, they can create an environment in which the child feels safe and comfortable to bring up questions they have about what they're going through in life.
What can help guide the behaviors of adolescents?
Giving adolescents the right balance of rules, support, and freedom can help guide them toward healthy behaviors. Being too lax with rules and giving them complete freedom might result in unhealthy or risky behaviors. Conversely, being too strict or controlling can lead to rebellion and increased problems.
Parents can identify what the right mix of freedom and rules is for their adolescents by spending time with them and getting to know them as a person. Parents increase their chances of creating a relationship in which their adolescent feels comfortable communicating openly when they offer support rather than judgment.
Family routines may also help guide the behaviors of adolescents. For example, families may develop routines around going to sleep at the same time each night, eating certain meals together, and spending time together or engaging in other recurring activities on a predictable schedule.
What are the roles and responsibilities of a child going into adolescence?
As a child enters early adolescence, their roles and responsibilities begin to change as they start the transition into adulthood. Generally, they begin gaining more independence and freedom when it comes to decision-making. For example, they have more say over the clothes they wear, the foods they eat, and the friends they spend time with.
Roles and responsibilities of an adolescent don't usually change overnight. Instead, the adolescent is gradually given more freedom and responsibility as they mature and demonstrate increased capabilities. So, someone in late adolescence would likely have more responsibility than someone in middle adolescence.
To take on more responsibility, an adolescent may be expected to help more around the house, such as by cooking dinner once a week, cleaning the bathroom, or mowing the lawn. They may also be allowed to spend time home alone when they weren't before. If they receive an allowance or have a paid job, they may also become responsible for purchasing some things they want, like games or clothes.
Why is it important for parents to provide guidance and discipline?
It's important for parents to outline clear expectations and rules in order to help maintain their adolescent child's safety and well-being. During adolescence, a child often wants increased freedom and free time. However, their brain is not yet fully developed, so they may not be skilled at assessing risk and making safe decisions. With their parents' guidance, an adolescent can avoid engaging in risky behavior.
What is the importance of parental guidance as we grow?
Parental guidance refers to the ongoing daily interactions that parents have with their children. According to the American Psychological Association, parenting is immensely important and encompasses three parts: keeping a child healthy and safe, preparing a child to become an adult, and passing on values.
How can parents be effective at guiding their children's behavior?
By maintaining open communication and taking a positive approach to their teenage children, parents can be more effective at guiding their behavior. Parents should allow their adolescent child to explore what it feels like to have more independence and freedom, while still communicating and interacting with them regularly in positive ways.
Parents can also clearly outline their rules and expectations to keep their adolescents safe. These conversations should also involve open communication and a positive angle. Parents may need to work on becoming aware of their own thoughts and feelings, so they can interact with their teenage child in a constructive rather than reactive way when disagreements arise.
How do you help the adolescent to develop in a positive way?
Parents can help their adolescent children develop in a positive way by having positive interactions with them and promoting open communication. An interaction between a parent and adolescent can be considered positive when those involved feel there is a mutual respect and a feeling of positivity in it. Rather than being overly strict or controlling, parents can instead provide support and communicate openly.
Good communication requires parents to pay attention to the adolescent's words and behaviors. Listening well and empathizing with what the adolescent is going through will help promote a sense of understanding. When there is conflict, parents can handle it positively by communicating openly and trying to resolve the conflict in a way that is cooperative and involves the thoughts of both parent and child.
How do you guide and strengthen children's positive behavior?
Open communication and positive interactions with a parent help strengthen an adolescent's positive behavior. However, it is also important for a parent to be aware of their adolescent child's negative behavior to identify when they need to set rules or intervene in order to maintain safety. As a child shows they are maturing and can handle more freedom without engaging in risky behavior, then the parent can respond accordingly by gradually loosening rules over time.
Although parents should not overly monitor their adolescent child, they should stay aware of how the child seems and acts, as well as who the child spends time with and what types of activities they are involved with. Parents can learn about their adolescent's life by talking openly with them, as well as by talking openly with others in their teen's life, like their teachers and their friends who come over.
How can I help my child navigate adolescence?
The best way to help your child navigate adolescence is to provide consistent support, as well as positive interaction and open communication. By focusing on your relationship with your adolescent, you can create a situation in which they feel comfortable turning to you with their thoughts, questions, and concerns. Then, as they share what obstacles they need help navigating, you can provide the support they desire.
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