Late-Game Parenting: How to Handle Your Teen

Parenting is the greatest challenge that most people will ever face. It certainly seems challenging at the beginning, when you take responsibility for a helpless being with no respect for your sleep schedule! Yet there are greater challenges waiting after years of hard work. When your child becomes a teenager, they gain the ability to look after themselves (sort of). Your job as a parent is not done, though, and in fact it gets harder. Here are important things to keep in mind as your child grows into adolescence.

Awareness is the overall watchword you should keep in mind if you want to keep a handle on a teenager. It seems like every tragedy involving a teen includes tearful parents confessing “they had no idea.” While you should definitely make an effort to keep tabs on your teen, resist the temptation to turn into the Mom & Dad Bureau of Investigation. As you’ll see, there are better ways to understand what’s going on with your teen.

Teens are like real estate in that three of the most important things to know are location, location, location. Know where your teenager is at all times, whenever possible. Although there are high-tech ways to do this today (e.g. tracking your teen’s mobile phone), it’s better to cultivate honest lines of communication with your teens so that they feel comfortable telling you directly where they’re going to be.

Who teens are with is nearly important as where they are. In order to gauge the influences affecting your teen, you need to know as much as possible about their friends and peers. Be as understanding as possible and don’t rush to separate your teen from someone you feel is a negative influence. You may end up driving the teenagers closer together. If you can, explain your concerns to your teen and convince them of what you see as a problem.

Your teen’s school experience is extremely important, not simply in determining where they go in the future, but also in gauging their current quality of life. Once again, you should be more concerned with developing a full understanding than with setting goals and limits. If your teen is struggling, try to find out why instead of demanding immediate improvement.

Speaking of quality of life, take an interest in how your teens are enjoying themselves. How do they spend their free time? What activities interest them? It’s true there are many pastimes you might want to warn teens away from, but there are also some interests you’ll want to encourage. You’ll never know until you take the time to learn.

If you’ve gathered information on what your teen is doing in all of these various areas, you likely have identified one or two thousand issues you would consider problematic. Try to stifle your concerns and consult your first, best resource: Ask your teens what problems are worrying them. By showing a genuine interest, you can build the sort of trust that will enable you to address your own concerns with your teen.

It’s worth stating outright what has, up to now, only been suggested: In all cases, the best place to get information about your teen is by talking to them directly. Just remember that trust isn’t built in an instant. Your first conversations are likely to be less than satisfactory, especially if you’re trying to get to sensitive issues. Have patience and persevere; eventually you’ll succeed in reminding your teens that you care about them.

There’s no doubt that raising a teenager can be a challenge. It is in many ways the final exam in the parenting class you started taking about a million years ago, when your kids were born. The stakes have gotten very high, but resist the temptation to put undue stress on your teen. If you handle teens with patience and as much understanding as you can muster, you’ll do a fine job raising them.