7 ways to help your teenager survive and thrive

A counsellor shows you how to navigate the tricky waters of dealing with your teenager

Teenager and woman hugging each other

A child’s teenage years can be a challenging time for parents. Parents may feel lost, frustrated and disconnected by an apparent lack of control over their child. But have faith; you can remain a positive influence in your teenager’s life. By trying to understand their challenges, knowing what to do and what to avoid, you can continue to support, love and educate them through these turbulent years.

1. Listen to your teenager

The best thing you can give your teenager is your time. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of quality time per day. If you cannot give her your attention when she wants it, set aside a time for her later in the day and keep your appointment. When you listen well, you will be more likely to identify illogical thoughts, generalisations and potentially dangerous decisions your teen may be contemplating. Stop your internal chatter and keep your mind completely on her words. By listening to your teenager, you will create opportunities for giving advice and improving your relationship.

2. Praise your teenager often

You have the ability to ‘make or break’ your teenager, simply by how you treat him. When a teenager is praised often, he is more likely to experience high self-esteem, which is a foundation of self-confidence, increased motivation, better decision-making, improved relationships and self-respect. Poor self-esteem often leads to self-criticism, doubt and confusion about one’s abilities and life. By seeking opportunities to praise your teenager, you are actively improving his self-perception. The importance of praising your teenager cannot be overstated.

3. Accept your teenager

Encourage your teenager to be independent by allowing her to make decisions in areas such as sporting interests, hobbies and clothing styles. By allowing her personal freedom, you are increasing her confidence. [Decisions regarding schooling and general safety are best left to parents.] Avoid being the co-dependent parent, who lives ‘through their child’, obsessing about your teen’s obstacles and successes like they were your own. It is not realistic to expect your teenager to always conform to your expectations. She is more likely to succeed in life when she is being herself, following her own path—so encourage her to be autonomous.

By listening to your teenager, you will create opportunities for giving advice and improving your relationship

Man and woman giving instructions to a teenage boy4. Educate your teenager

Research tells us that the male human’s brain is not fully developed for processing danger until he is approximately 24 years old, so in many ways, you are the voice of reason. Keep talking to your teenager about key areas like drugs, alcohol and sex. Try not to overreact if he comes home from a party where alcohol or drugs were taken. If you ban him from parties forever, he may avoid discussing his concerns with you again. Be calm, and ask him about the drugs or if he consumed alcohol and then educate him on the dangers these substances. One of your primary roles is being the positive influence, so it is vital that your teenager feels comfortable talking with you about anything.

5. Understand your teenager’s world

Teenagers often live with fears and challenges that may be different from your own. They feel great pressure to be accepted by their peers, making them highly susceptible to outside influences, which impacts their decisions and priorities. This focus on friends causes some parents to feel pushed aside. Teenagers are challenged physically and emotionally: their bodies are busy supporting dramatic growth spurts, while their minds are trying to cope with hormone-fuelled moods. To make matters worse, many teenagers are exposed to negativity and trolling on social media and other websites that make them feel helpless and overwhelmed. Add to this the pressure felt by many teenagers to meet their parents’ or teachers’ expectations. To escape, or experiment, some teenagers try drugs or alcohol, further complicating their lives. You can make your teenager’s life easier by getting to know, and understanding, his or her struggles.

One of your primary roles is being the positive influence, so it is vital that your teenager feels comfortable talking with you about anything

6. Don’t alienate your teenager

Your relationship with your teen is the benchmark for all her future relationships, so ensure that this relationship is based on mutual respect. You need to trust her, but this trust must be developed. If your teenager tells you that she is going out, let her know that she needs to call or text you, if plans change. If she does not make contact, consequences need to be enforced. Avoid resorting to unconstructive criticism, name-calling, yelling, swearing, giving the silent treatment, trying to dominate or making irrational threats that you never carry out. Such tactics will only result in drama and unhappiness, and will fuel her rebellious streak. Create an environment for your teenager that includes love, respect, healthy boundaries, and consequences, for their safety, wellbeing and for the benefit of the household.

7. Watch over your teenager

Your teenager may no longer want to socialise with you, and instead may spend hours alone with his cell phone or on the computer in his bedroom. While teenagers need their space, watch out for any abnormal changes. If your teenager avoids any conversation with you, or her sleep patterns or eating habits change, or she seems socially withdrawn, then seek professional help with a counsellor or psychologist. Your child is at a vulnerable age where depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behaviour tend to develop. Educate yourself on the signs of distress and watch over your teenager closely.

If you are feeling left out and frustrated by your teenager, take a step back and consider how fragile teenage years are. Your teenager may feel uncertain about her future, as she tries to discover who she is and what she wants from life. She will benefit greatly from your time, friendship, acceptance, support and love. Your teenager is a soul given to you on loan. Your role is to educate, praise, love, and get to know your teenager’s world. The way you treat her today will impact her future for better or worse.

This was first published in the February 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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