Raising mentally fit tweens and teens is an everyday adventure of ups and downs. Practice makes perfect-ish. We’ve tapped therapist JSRose for advice on all things smart parenting.
Q: How can I help my teen discover what they are best at and help them go for it?— Mother of a 13-year old, NJ
A: Parenting, while being a tremendous joy, can also bring stressful times. Parenting a teenager is one of those times where a parent can feel that the stress outweighs the joy. However, there are ways to reduce altercations and improve communication between you and your teen.
Teens are going through a time of enormous change. They are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. They are doing this while under pressure to excel in school, on the field, and socially. Try to remember the pressure you were under. A good way to alleviate some of the pressure is to refrain from shouting as much as you can. Nothing good will come from your shouting. They shut down and stop listening.
The secret formula to avoid a huge fight is this: Before you speak, stop and ask yourself if what you’re upset about really matters or are you just annoyed? The less you yell, the more the lines of communication stay open, and the more your teen will want to talk to you. Your teen will appreciate your advice and will look to you as a source of support, not stress.
Q: How do I avoid getting into a fight with my teenage daughter about doing her homework and turning it in on time? — Mother of a 14-year old, CA
A: School, and it’s obligations, are often a source of contention between parents and teens. If you find yourself frequently arguing with your teenager about completing and handing in homework you may need to take a step back and ask yourself some questions to try to figure out what is going on. First, is the homework issue happening across all subjects or is it limited to just one? Have the teachers been in contact with you about your child? Is this the first year you have seen this behavior or has it been an ongoing struggle? Is your child overbooked with activities to the point where there really isn’t enough time to complete homework? Does your child have organizational challenges? Once you have looked at this issue from all angles, you need to speak to your child. In order to have this conversation, without it devolving into a shouting match, pick a time when you are both having a good day, without too many stresses, and calmly ask your teen what she thinks her challenges are in getting her homework completed and handed in on time. Tell her your concerns, but do it without shouting. She knows you are worried about her; you don’t want her thinking you are angry with her. Only by having a mutually respectful conversation will you uncover what is really going on and how you can work best with your daughter, and her teachers, to ensure academic success.
Q: How do I get my teenage daughter to clean her room, or is she old enough that I should let her live in a pigsty and never venture into her room as long as the mess stays confined to her space only? — Father of a 16-year old, IL
A common topic for disagreement between parents and teenagers is where to draw the ever-shifting line on privacy. Parents may still be looking back to the time when their child had no privacy; the teen is looking ahead to the time when she will enjoy total privacy. One area where these differing opinions collide is the teenager’s room. This arena is an excellent one for your child to exercise her privacy and develop her growing independence. You may want to keep it as neat as a pin whereas your teen may like not being able to see the floor for all the clothes strewn on it. If you can, just close the door. It isn’t your room; it is your child’s room. She needs to learn how to treat her own things. The more you step in and dictate what you want her room to look like, the longer it will take her to decide what she wants her room to look like. Teenagers like the chance to make choices. Let her choose how she wants her room to be. Hold the arguing for things that matter; her room looking like a pigsty, while it might annoy you, doesn’t really matter. She will come around and realize that, actually, she prefers being able to find her things.
Q: My 16-year-old son just started driving. My gut tells me to enforce parameters. Curfew or no curfew? Weekends or school nights? And how do I enforce in the fairest way? — Mother of a 16-year old, NJ
A teenager getting a driver’s license is a classic point of disagreement between the teen and the parent. The first thing the parent needs to do is learn the specific driving restrictions for your child’s age in your state. Trust me: your child knows the restrictions and may be hoping that you don’t. Just because a teen has a license does not mean that he is fully comfortable behind the wheel, no matter what he tells you. If your child has a license, and a car at his disposal, he will be very popular with his friends who do not have a car, or who have stricter parents. However, you do not want your teen becoming the taxi service for all of his friends. There are few hard rules about parenting but teen driving merits hard rules. Absolutely your teenager should have a curfew, both for school nights and for weekends. You enforce this fairly by laying out the parameters, and the repercussions if they aren’t followed, in advance of your teen taking the keys and running out the door. That way, if your teen doesn’t follow the rules the reaction will not be a surprise to him. You need to listen to your gut: it is giving you good advice.
These community questions were answered by JSRose, LCSW, a Behavioral Health Therapist from the NY Metropolitan Area. Got questions? Submit them here.