A parent’s goal is often to help their teenager become a healthy, happy, and independent individual. In the pre-teen and teenage years this goal can feel unobtainable. Despite feeling overwhelmed, there are effective strategies to aid you in meeting these parental goals. There is a fine line between the unconditional love that is so important in fostering our children’s emotional well-being and the consistent rules and consequences needed to shape a child’s behavior. As your teenager becomes more defiant or begins to engage in concerning behaviors it may be tempting to implement harsh and infinite rules or consequences. Although rules and consequences do demonstrate benefits, a good parent learns to identify a healthy mix of punishment and reward. It is effective to target specific behaviors and to be vigilant in shaping and changing those identified behaviors. For example, if there are five significant behaviors that you wish to address, address those five behaviors and attempt to back off of the incessant complaints regarding the teenager’s messy room. Below you will find key components of good parenting that are necessary to remember when parenting becomes difficult.
1. Empathic and Reflective Listening
a. This includes summarizing what your teenager is trying to communicate, to not try to solve the teenager’s problems or conflicts, to provide undivided attention to your teenager, and to attempt to understand the importance your teenager places on the topic.
2. Clear Rules and Consequences
a. Choose a manageable list of behaviors to address. Remember that you may not be able to address all behaviors initially. Choose your battles!
b. Consequences should be immediate, controllable, un-debatable, and match infraction/ actions.
c. Your teenager may help you create these rules and consequences.
d. Remind your teen of the consequences before they break the rules (i.e. remember if you break curfew you will be grounded.)
e. Remember natural consequences are effective too. (i.e. If your teenager doesn’t turn in their homework, they will get a poor grade.)
3. Reward your Child for Good Behavior and Provide Praise
a. Do a pleasurable activity together and relate it to wanting to spend more time with them due to their behavior.
b. Provide incentives for appropriate behavior and behavior exceeding expectations (i.e. choosing restaurant or dinner options, allow them to attend an activity with their friends, choose an activity to do with parent, purchase item at mall, etc.)
c. Positively reinforcing desired behaviors is an effective way to ensure the behavior or attitude occurs again in the future.
4. Follow Through. Be Consistent.
5. Have fun with your teenager, despite your frustrations related to past behaviors.
6. Show interest in your teenager’s interests.
7. Talk with your teenager, even if they’re uninterested. Ask their opinions about various topics, ask questions about their lives, and refer back to information that they have shared in the past.
8. Role model appropriate coping, behaviors, and respect.
9. Notice when your teenager may need additional support. If your teenager tends to not disclose information to you or has changed their behavior and attitude as of recently it may be time to seek additional resources such as therapy services.
10. Take care of yourself and take parent time-outs when needed. It’s important that you are happy and healthy in order to support and care for your teenager.