One of the common stereotypes of the teen years is that the rebellious, wild kid is continually at odds with his or her parents. Although it may be the case for some (and this is a time of emotional ups and downs), that stereotype certainly is not representative of most adolescents.
But the primary goal of the adolescent years is to achieve independence. For this to occur, adolescents will start pulling away from their care-takers — especially the mother or father whom they're the closest to. This can come across as adolescents always seeming to have different opinions than their care-takers or not wanting to be around their care-takers in the same way they used to.
As adolescents mature, they start to think more abstractly and rationally. They're forming their moral code. And care-takers of adolescents may find that children who previously had been willing to conform to please them will suddenly begin asserting themselves — and their opinions — strongly and rebelling against parental control.
You may need to look closely at how much room you give your adolescent to be an individual and ask yourself questions such as: "Am I a controlling parent?," "Do I listen to my youngster?," and "Do I allow my youngster's opinions and tastes to differ from my own?"
Here are some tips that will help in preventing problems before they start:
1. Talk to Your Youngster Early Enough— Talking about menstruation or wet dreams after they've already started means you're too late. Answer the early questions children have about bodies, such as the differences between boys and girls and where babies come from. But don't overload them with information — just answer their questions. You know your children. You can hear when your youngster's starting to tell jokes about sex or when attention to personal appearance is increasing. This is a good time to jump in with your own questions such as: “Are you noticing any changes in your body?” … “Are you having any strange feelings?” … “Are you sad sometimes and don't know why?” A yearly physical exam is a great time to bring up these things. A doctor can tell your preadolescent — and you — what to expect in the next few years. An exam can serve as a jumping-off point for a good parent/youngster discussion. The later you wait to have this discussion, the more likely your youngster will be to form misconceptions or become embarrassed about or afraid of physical and emotional changes. Furthermore, the earlier you open the lines of communication, the better chance you have of keeping them open through the adolescent years. Give your youngster books on puberty written for children going through it. Share memories of your own adolescence. There's nothing like knowing that Mom or Dad went through it, too, to put a youngster more at ease.
2. Respect Children' Privacy— Some moms and dads, understandably, have a very hard time with this one. They may feel that anything their children do is their business. But to help your adolescent become a young adult, you'll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your youngster's privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it's a good idea to back off. In other words, your adolescent's room and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn't expect your adolescent to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where adolescents are going, what they're doing, and with whom, but you don't need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn't expect to be invited along!
3. Put Yourself in Your Youngster's Place— Practice empathy by helping your youngster understand that it's normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it's OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.
4. Pick Your Battles Carefully— If adolescents want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Adolescents want to shock their moms and dads and it's a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; leave the objections to things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol.
5. Monitor What Children See and Read— TV shows, magazines and books, the Internet — children have access to tons of information. Be aware of what yours watch and read. Don't be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer or the TV. Know what they're learning from the media and who they may be communicating with online.
6. Make Appropriate Rules— Bedtime for an adolescent should be age appropriate, just as it was when your youngster was a baby. Reward your adolescent for being trustworthy. Does your youngster keep to a 10 PM curfew? Move it to 10:30 PM. And does an adolescent always have to go along on family outings? Decide what your expectations are, and don't be insulted when your growing youngster doesn't always want to be with you. Think back: You probably felt the same way about your mom and dad.
7. Maintain Your Expectations— Adolescents will likely act unhappy with expectations their moms and dads place on them. However, they usually understand and need to know that their care-takers care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and adherence to the rules of the house. If care-takers have appropriate expectations, adolescents will likely try to meet them.
8. Know the Warning Signs— A certain amount of change may be normal during the adolescent years, but too drastic or long-lasting a switch in personality or behavior may signal real trouble — the kind that needs professional help. Watch for one or more of these warning signs: talk or even jokes about suicide, sudden change in friends, sleep problems, skipping school continually, signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use, run-ins with the law, rapid, drastic changes in personality, falling grades, and extreme weight gain or loss. Any other inappropriate behavior that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your adolescent's behavior or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn't suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn't suddenly become constantly withdrawn. Your doctor or a local counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you find proper counseling.
9. Inform Your Adolescent and Stay Informed Yourself— The adolescent years often are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviors. Don't avoid the subjects of sex, or drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; discussing these things openly with children before they're exposed to them increases the chance that they'll act responsibly when the time comes. Know your youngster's friends — and know their friends' care-takers. Regular communication between care-takers can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all adolescents in a peer group. Moms and dads can help each other keep track of the children' activities without making the children feel that they're being watched.
10. Educate Yourself— Read books about adolescents. Think back on your own adolescent years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing early — or late. Expect some mood changes in your typically sunny youngster, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she matures as an individual. Moms and dads who know what's coming can cope with it better. And the more you know, the better you can prepare.
As children progress through the adolescent years, you'll notice a slowing of the highs and lows of adolescence. And, eventually, they'll become independent, responsible, communicative adults. So remember the motto of many care-takers with adolescents: “We're going through this together, and we'll come out of it — together!”
My Out-of-Control Teen: Discipline Strategies for Out-of-Control Teenagers