You Can Have a Strong Relationship With Your Teen: Here's How

parent and teen

As children enter the early teen years, more and more of their lives takes place away from you. For parents, trying to balance teens’ increasing need for privacy and independence with the need for adequate supervision and involvement may often make you feel like you are walking the tightrope in the circus—over a cage of hungry lions. The good news is that you have more than a decade of parental experience under your belt. So although you may feel unprepared, you are well qualified for the task at hand.

Trust Your Gut

As kids become teenagers, one of the biggest mistakes parents make is to stop trusting their gut. You had no trouble making rules and setting appropriate limits when they were 10 or 11. The magic number 13 shouldn’t change that. Remember, no one knows your child better than you. If something seems off, it likely is. Follow your instincts and do what you think is right.

Clear and Communicated Expectations

The easiest way to help your teens toe the line is to ensure they know what is expected of them. Be sure your rules, family values, and expectations are clearly communicated and consistent. Supervision, rules, and privileges should be age-specific and the same for all family members—boys and girls.

Nothing

Don’t be dismayed when “nothing” seems to be the answer to every question you ask your teens. Grilling them or prying is a surefire way to make sure they never open up. Take a new approach. Tell them about your day. Acknowledge if they look angry, upset or sad, and make yourself available—“I’ll be over here if you want to talk.” You’ll be pleasantly surprised how they open up.

Stay On That Pedestal

It might be hard to recall, but your teens are the same children who used to think you were invincible. Don’t lose your parental credibility by trying to relate as a friend, instead of a parent. It doesn’t matter how you behaved as a teen. Save those stories for when your kids are adults.

Privacy is a Privilege, Not a Right

Teens must earn the privilege of privacy and independence. Be sure to dole it out a little at a time and evaluate how they manage before you give a little more. Throughout their teen years, this will be a constant ebb and flow—as they show they can be trusted and you give more, or they misstep and you reign them back in.

Kids Will Be Kids

There is no doubt that your teens will make mistakes; thankfully, most will be relatively minor, but don’t make the parental mistake of under-reacting when it is something serious. Any sign of substance use should be dealt with as a major offense. Consequences should be enough of an ordeal for your teen that they serve as a true deterrent for such behavior in the future.

Crime and Punishment

If you want your rules followed, there have to be consequences when they are broken. The key is that the punishment is reasonable and enforceable. Keep it short and sweet when delivering justice. Don’t engage your teen in a discussion about the reasons behind your rules when they are being enforced. Save those conversations for another time and place.

Large and Lasting Influence

Research proves that cultivating a strong parent/child relationship ensures that you will have a large influence over your teens’ behavior for a long time. A strong relationship doesn’t mean that you always agree. It means you take interest in what they do, share your opinions, make yourself available for them to talk to, know who their friends are, and step in where necessary to keep them physically and emotionally safe. You can expect challenges to your ability to love and understand them. You also can expect to be compared to other parents. What they are really saying to you is your limits are meaningful. Even though it may be hard to believe, they some day will be thanking you.

Luis Felipe Amunategui, PhD, is a psychologist at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital and specializes in child and adolescent psychology. 

Related links

UH Rainbow pediatric practices are offering extended office hours in May to accommodate and prioritize teen well visits as part of Teen Health Month. Call for an appointment today.

Brian Zack, MD, general pediatrician at Pediatricenter -- Bainbridge, explains the benefits of teens having their annual physical with their pediatrician who knows them best. Watch the video.

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