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The Impressionable Years

Parenting teens while creating a positive relationship.

Who said raising an adolescent has to be difficult? It doesn't; in fact the adolescent years can be some of the most impressionable ones that you will ever have with your child. These years mark insurmountable growth both physically and psychologically. Unfortunately, many parents miss the unique opportunities the adolescent years provide because they have a hard time letting their child grow up. So rather than letting their teen explore the world and make mistakes, they err on trying to control their child's behavior.

If you're a parent, you know how fast children grow up. One minute you're changing diapers and the next minute you're teaching them how to drive (I don't know which one is worse?) By adolescence, many of the childhood milestones have been met, from that first day of school, to pulling that first tooth, to learning to ride a bicycle (without training wheels), to now... Those infamous teen years that all parents look forward to. Right? Okay, maybe not, but regardless it's a stage that we all have to go through.

And speaking of "stages," in a few short years many adolescents will be walking across one... at graduation. Whoa! By far the teen years fly by faster than any other period of a child's life. When more and more things, (i.e., school work, jobs, relationships, etc.) begin to enter the picture time begins to fly. So gone are the days of you orchestrating family events and outings. Teens have other, more important things to do....most teens spend less and less time at home and more and more time doing their "own" thing. And believe it or not, that's a good thing because they are getting ready for the next step. Your teen is becoming a responsible person and in a few short years will be able to show you that he/she has emerged from being an adolescent to a young adult.

It is during these pivotal teen years that parents have a unique opportunity to lay the foundation for a wonderful future parent/child relationship. Unfortunately, many parents make the mistake of trying to exert power and control over their teen and lose the opportunity to bond and get to know who their teen is becoming. Many parents fail to see the young metamorphosis that is occurring before their very eyes. Metamorphosis? Yeah, if you have difficulty with your teen, you may be questioning what's coming out of that cocoon. But rest assured, it's a unique special person that still needs you; only instead of you telling him or her what to do, they need you to be a coach; a life coach. You see, just as your teen goes through transitions, so do you. The role of being a parent is complex and ever-changing.

If you are struggling to stand your ground with your teen and nothing that you do seems to be working, maybe it's time to change your approach. Think about this... In a few short years your teen will be leaving home. When that happens, he/she will take all of your life lessons with him/her. To best prepare your teen for this transition, it's time to change parenting approaches. Rather than exerting power and control, try offering choices and consequences. Let your teen, who tries to convince you he's/she's grown up, make decisions within limits; if he/she makes a poor choice, let the consequence play out. By allowing your teen a chance to make choices, you’re saying, “I see you're growing up, let me help you.” Using this approach still puts you on the sidelines coaching the plays by laying out the choices and options. It's up to your teen to decide what to do. And, if your teen makes a poor choice, there is a consequence. Isn't this how the real world works?

So, if you are looking for a way to transition into a different parenting role with your teen here are 5 essential tips to help.

1. Talk with your teen like an adult. As adults we are faced with decisions. Give your teen choices to make decisions. In life there are options, you can practice the same principles in your own home. For example, if your teen is constantly running late to school, give a choice like:

1. Talk with your teen like an adult. As adults we are faced with decisions. Give your teen choices to make decisions. In life there are options, you can practice the same principles in your own home. For example, if your teen is constantly running late to school, give a choice like:

"Lately, you haven’t been ready on time for school. Would you like to get your things packed and organized tonight or would you like for me to wake you up 30 minutes earlier so you can get your things ready?

2. Let consequences of poor decisions play out. If your teen makes a poor choice, don't rush in to make a fast save. Here's a perfect example: let's say your teen is constantly calling/texting you because he/she forgot something at home that's needed for school. Normally you may leave work, drive home and deliver the forgotten item to school. What would happen if you didn't drop everything and save your teen the next time he/she called or texted? Rather, what if you have a discussion with your teen and let him/her know that you aren't going to leave work anymore? Trust me, if you do this a few times, guess what? Your teen will start remembering things.

3. Disengage. When your teen wants to push your buttons pull back and disengage. Don't play into the game. You can let your teen know that you understand his/her frustration, but the choice was theirs to make and as a result there are consequences. Next, you get to do the classic thing... walk away and disengage in the conversation.

4. Let your teen learn from his/her mistakes and then try it again. So your teen screws up big time and now he/she is facing the consequence of that decision. No matter how hard this lesson will be, let him/her know it's not the end of the world and there will be an opportunity to try again with a different outcome.

5. Build and sustain a positive relationship. Spend time getting to know your teen. Listen to his/her thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives on life. Teens can be quirky and have a great sense of humor. Laugh often with them. Teens may be naive, but it is truly refreshing to hear them try to figure out the complexities of their existence.

When your teen gets ready to leave the nest, will you look back with regrets and “I wish I would haves,” or will you feel confident that you've prepared him/her for the next part of their journey? Each time I hear the song by Harry Chapin "Cat's in the Cradle" I think of lost opportunities. Don't lose these precious short-lived opportunities. Start today to build and sustain a healthy relationship with your teen. So back to is something to ponder on...What kind of parent do you want to be? More importantly, what kind of relationship do you want to have with your teen?