Almost every parent has been there – those wonderful children who are the apple of your eye and joy of your heart start going through hormonal and social changes and all of a sudden it seems you can’t get through to them anymore. Parenting a growing teenager can be challenging, but if we reflect on our own lives, going through that stage of life as a teenager is difficult and can be confusing as well. Fortunately, there are steps that parents, caregivers, teachers, and mentors can take that will make these responsibilities and the adolescents growth, easier and more productive.
One of the most important steps to being a productive caregiver is joining with the individual you are trying to care for. Teenagers are no exception. A pastor once told me, “no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care!” Sincere, genuine concern, and active listening are important tools for creating a productive relationship with your teen.
2. Create a Safe and Empathetic Environment for Your Teen to Share His/her Feelings.
Often teenagers are reluctant to share because they are afraid of “sounding stupid” or “looking bad”. Sometimes they are afraid the person they share with will retaliate. All parents want to protect their children but sometimes an overly strict environment can repress the desire to share or ask questions. Ironically this kind of over-protection often leads to the very behavior the caregiver is trying to prevent. Designate an “safe area” where you and your teen agree to go where he/she can share feelings and questions without harsh judgement. Offer alternative, proactive processes such as, the ability to call if the teen gets into a bad situation and needs help without an immediate scolding. During those meetings, listen carefully and try and reach the teen where he/she is.
3. Treat the teenager like a problem-solver, not the problem
Many times a change in attitude initiated by the parent, caregiver, teacher, or mentor can remove much of the perceived resistance and animosity from the teenager.Treating him/her as an equal partner in resolving an issue encourages involvement and makes the person feel validated and their opinion important.
4. Stay curious
Don’t assume you know what is bothering him/her.Be slow to criticize and quick to understand.Finding out what he/she feels is wrong and how it connects to his/her behavior will give insight on how he/she processes.This in turn will greatly assist both parties in jointly developing a resolution.
5. Team Work Produces More Permanent Solutions
Resolutions the teenager is involved in developing are more likely to promote continued adaptive behavior.Because he/she feels involved in the process of finding a resolution, there is more of a “buy in” and therefore the new behavior will have more longevity.
6. Always Acknowledge Positive Behavior
It is easy to get caught up in the day to day activities and demands life throws our way, but is important to highlight and acknowledge positive, adaptive behavior.When greater attention is given to good behavior than maladaptive behavior, the adolescent is more likely to pursue that behavior.
7. Be Patient
None of these tools work over-night miracles.Except changes to occur in small increments.Expect some of them to take time before the new behavior is more frequent. Anticipate the change with visible, positive attitude.Remember you are the caregiver. If you don’t believe a change will occur.Neither will the individual.