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Adolescence: Your Parenting Work Is Not Over Yet

10 ways to help your teenager grow into a happily productive adult

Steve Crane via flickr/creative commons
Source: photo credit: Steve Crane via flickr/creative commons

By the time young people leave home to make their own lives, it’s best if they know how to take care of themselves. Those who are lucky learn the necessary skills when they’re still living at home from loving adults who are able to provide respectful guidance as needed.

Joanne Foster and I have put together this list of ten ways you can support your adolescent (age 11-20) in thriving through the challenging teen years, and creating a happily productive adulthood:

  1. Be available. Your teenager may give the impression of not caring what you think, but they need you now as much as ever. Do your best to be openly available for relaxed conversation whenever your child seems to want that. They may open the chat with trivial matters on their way to broaching something deeply important. Your being available at the right time can make the difference between a good decision and a dangerous one.
  2. Change your parenting style to match changing circumstances. Learn to relax and let go, while still providing backup support when it’s needed. Don’t protect your young person from the learning that comes from making mistakes.
  3. Minimize the rules. Make rules only when necessary. Parents often end up spending a lot of their parenting time defending the rules they make. That’s easier to do if those rules are necessary, either for your child’s protection or your sanity.
  4. Scaffold decision-making autonomy. Adolescents need to learn to make decisions on their own, but it’s best when that decision-making skill builds slowly and steadily, starting in early childhood. And remember that a teenager’s ability to handle decisions about sexual intimacy, drugs, bullying, and other potentially dangerous issues is not improved because of high intelligence or well-developed reasoning ability, no matter how persuasive your child might be.
  5. Expect power issues and conflict. You may be surprised to hear that it’s actually good if you find yourself arguing frequently with your teenager, as long as there’s also love and good humour in your relationship. In fact, the best long-term outcomes for kids occur in families where there’s lots of warmth, as well as plenty of inter-generational discussions. A hot debate is a great way for your teenager to discover what you care about, and why it’s worth caring about.
  6. Relate to the person hidden in the identity of the month. Most teenagers try on a number of different identities—angry, spoiled, rebellious, cool, religious, sports-crazy, boy-crazy, etc.—before they become (again) the person they are in the process of becoming (and always were). Do your best to see past the latest surface behaviour to the authentic person you’ve known since birth.
  7. Be aware of cultural conflicts. If your family background is different than the surrounding culture—whether by race, religion, sexual orientation, or some other way—recognize that your child may be experiencing a conflict between home values and peers’ values. The best developmental outcomes occur for those kids whose parents are flexible enough to respect their kids’ need to create their own unique blend. And you might take comfort in the fact that most kids come back in the end to their parents’ values.
  8. Help your child broaden their horizons. Adolescence is an ideal time for wide-ranging exploration. It’s a great time to discover interests, abilities, and curiosities. Your teen will benefit enormously from exposure to a diversity of ideas, activities, places, and people.
  9. Keep the learning options open. Sometimes schooling isn’t at the top of a teen’s list of what matters, and that’s okay. While education does matter—and it’s important your child knows you believe that—it’s more important that your child figures out who they are, and feels good about that. Everything else builds on this. Encourage your adolescent to find what they really want to learn about, and to keep as many educational and career options open as possible.
  10. Try for a balance of vigilance and flexibility. Your adolescent is changing so quickly, the best you can do is try to keep up with it. Don’t even try to predict what’s coming next. Until your child is responsible for making their own life, you’ve got a challenging balancing act ahead.
More from Dona Matthews Ph.D.
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