Being a teen can be hard. And being the parent of a teen can be even harder. Numerous changes occurring in the adolescent brain and body can leave many parents feeling as if they are learning how to parent all over again. And recent statistics published by the Center for Disease Control describing negative trends in adolescent mental health are causing many parents to pay closer attention to the quality of the parent-teen relationship. CDC, 2023 The good news is that forming strong social and emotional bonds continues to be one of the best protective factors for a teen’s mental health, as described in a recent article by the American Psychological Association. 2023 Taking steps to increase collaborative interactions, decrease conflict, and deepen emotional attunement in the parent-teen relationship can go a long way in supporting adolescent mental health. While parenting a teen will never be challenge-or-stress-free, here are a few tips to increase harmony in the home.
Focus on strengths
Focusing on your teen’s strengths will go a long way in gardening the type of cooperative relationship many parents want and sometimes struggle to find with their teen. Extensive changes occurring in the brain and body during the adolescent period can leave teens feeling easily misunderstood, judged, and critiqued, especially in relationships with their parents. One way to work with these changes is to intentionally focus on your teen’s strengths and what they are doing well, no matter how mundane. For example, if you ask your teenager to do the dishes and they say, “I will when my show is over,” instead of focusing on them not immediately complying with your request, focus on the fact that they did acknowledge you and agree to meet your request (in their own time).
Be a consultant, not a manager
Unlike their child counterparts who more readily seek guidance and direction from adults, adolescents are driven to a central pull towards autonomy. Therefore, our relationship with them needs to change (within reason) in order to accommodate this natural and healthy inclination. I encourage parents to think of themselves as guardrails for their teen- providing guidance and structure, but allowing for increasing, developmentally-appropriate expressions of autonomy. In this new stage of development, teens tend to relate to their parents more as consultants than managers. Bradley, 2023 As such, teens are less likely to accept more of a top-down communication style, but tend to be open to more collaborative forms of communication. Operating as your teens’ older and wiser consultant, you might encourage your teens to share their perspectives and concerns, alongside your perspective and concerns, as you collaboratively help them navigate life’s challenges.
Roll with the changing emotions and be supportive
Another part of the biological rollercoaster that underscores this developmental period is the characteristic changes in moods and emotions. Teens’ moods can shift quickly, sometimes significantly, over a relatively short amount of time. In order to maintain a positive relationship with your teen and support positive emotion regulation, I encourage parents to practice responding with empathy and curiosity. Simple reflective listening statements such as, ‘It sounds like you had a hard day,’ or, ‘I can understand why that upset you,” can go a long way in helping your teen experience and move through big emotions, while staying in a relationship with you.
Let them come to you (to talk)
Again, a central organizing force in a teen’s life is their drive toward autonomy. This at least partially explains why parents can come up with the most brilliant questions to ask their teen at the dinner table, only to be met with a dismissive, one-word answer. Teens become increasingly resistant to operating on the time frame of adults, which includes wanting to connect more on their terms. This might mean choosing to share significant personal information while you are in the car together on the way to the grocery store. Be open to this shift in communication pattern and plan for one: one time – even a simple frozen yogurt outing or quick errand can be great.
As always, seek support from your teen’s Primary Care Provider or a qualified Mental Health Professional if you’re noticing signs of anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.
Bradley, M. J., EdD. www.kidsinthehouse.com/expert/parenting-advice-from-michael-j-bradley-edd