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Keeping Your Cool When Parenting Teens

Adolescence is a difficult time for young people. During those years, they face physical changes; peer pressure; exposure to drugs, alcohol, and sexual relationships; and increased expectations and scrutiny from parents and teachers.

But, as difficult as it is being a teenager, being a parent of one may be even harder.

After years of being the primary influence on their children, parents of teens suddenly find their kids are more interested in what their friends think and do. Depending on the child, outright rebellion against family rules and values can take a painful toll.

The following strategies from the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth can help you keep your cool and your relationship intact during your children's teen years.

  • Learn about adolescent development. Knowing what behaviors to expect can help you prepare for parenting challenges.

  • Look back at your own teen years. Remembering your own moods, risk-taking activities, and attitudes toward your parents and adults can help you understand teen behavior.

  • Consider taking a teen-parenting course. Look for one taught by someone with experience in child development, or who has spent time counseling teens. Expect to learn from the instructor and other parents facing similar challenges.

  • Use positive reinforcement. Criticism and excessive punishment, including words that belittle, can hurt a teen's self-esteem, thereby increasing rebellious behavior. When warmth, kindness, consistency, and love characterize parent-child communication, the relationship will flourish, as will self-esteem, cooperation, and respect.

  • Teach your teen that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. Give your child increasing responsibility for his or her well-being and that of the family.

  • Include your child in discussions involving setting rules and establishing consequences for breaking them. This will increase the chance your teen will respect his or her boundaries most of the time.

Finding a balance

The most difficult thing about monitoring a teen is maintaining the balance between too much and too little control. Good parenting requires that you set firm limits when it would be easier to let things slide. It also requires that you be continually vigilant to ensure you know where your children are and what they're doing.

  • Help your child move toward independence. Parents who encourage independent thought and expression in their children often find their children have a healthy sense of self and an enhanced ability to resist peer pressure.

  • Spend quality and quantity time with your child. Teens begin to pull away from their families and spend more time with friends. But time spent with their parents is important to their emotional development. Stay involved in your child's outside interests; attend his or her school and extracurricular activities.

  • Encourage other adults, including friends and relatives, to spend time with your child. Aunts and uncles or adult neighbors can offer your child support and guidance.

When teens need help

All teens need daily support and guidance, but some need extra help from outside the family.

Early intervention is crucial in reducing the damage serious problems might cause. Signs your child might need help include:

  • Spending a lot of time alone

  • Sudden drop in school performance

  • Drastic mood swings or changes in behavior

  • Separation from longtime friends

  • Lack of interest in hobbies or social and recreational activities

  • Drug or alcohol abuse

If talking with your child doesn't improve the situation, seek support and guidance from school resources or mental health professionals.

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