Parenting a teenager can be one of the most frustrating times of a parent’s life. You wait up at night worried about who your daughter is hanging around with, if they will come home on time, and an assortment of other worries. You see changes in their appearance, attitude and demeanor, and wonder if this is my kid.
Yet parenting a teenager can also be one of the most rewarding times. You see your son growing into a mature responsible adult who is forming his own opinions and identity.
Let’s start with your worries. When your teen makes choices that are troubling to you, you’re not alone. Most teenagers at a certain age start experimenting and stretching the boundaries you set. All teenagers know right from wrong. What they sometimes don’t understand is the consequences of their choices and actions. Here is where you come in.
Keeping an open dialogue is the key. Once a teenager feels there is no use in talking to you because you will fly off the handle, give an unjust punishment, or simply give no explanation at all, you will lose the most valuable asset you have—the ability to communicate.
Teenagers want answers, so they are testing boundaries to see what works and what doesn’t work. Talk situations through fully so your teen can understand why they made a specific choice or why you are giving a specific boundary.
Saying no might have worked when a child was 5 or 6, but when a teenager is trying to figure out their identity, future, sexuality, and a number of other things, they need an educator—not a yes or no person. They deserve an explanation. They already have your trust, love and respect. Down deep whether they say it or not, they want boundaries, limits, and answers.
When things go wrong, never give up. As a man who deals with “at-risk” teenagers every day, my motto is “I don’t believe in bad kids, I believe in bad choices”. I also believe all kids are at-risk. If you are having a problem with your teenager, be pro-active in helping your son or daughter understand the consequences of their choices.
Larry Lawton is the President of Reality Check Program for families which provides assistance in reaching teens and young adults with a strong message about choices.