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It’s an accepted fact that parenting gets a lot more complicated when kids enter their teenage years. That’s where children start to transition into adulthood, gaining more independence and learning more about the world until they eventually leave the nest. Guiding a teen through those years requires different parenting techniques when compared to children, so many parents struggle.
That’s why we’ve written this survival guide for coping with teenagers. With the information contained in this guide, you can learn how to guide a teenager through these years without imposing on them. We’ve split the guide into four distinct sections:
- Understanding Teenagers
- Why Are Teenagers So Rebellious?
- When Should You Really Be Worried About Your Troublesome Teenager?
- Tips For Parents During The Teenage Years Of Their Children
Since we’re diving into parenting techniques, behavioral patterns, and basic psychology, we’ve provided links to supporting material. Through those, you can read even deeper into certain topics that are relevant but not necessary to parenting teens.
Let’s begin with how to understand teenagers. You should understand how your teenager thinks and feels before you can appreciate their needs and implement some of the tips in this guide.
Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Understanding Teenagers
- 3 Why Are Teenagers So Rebellious?
- 4 When Should You Really Be Worried About Your Troublesome Teenager?
- 5 Tips For Parents During The Teenage Years Of Their Children
- 5.1 Think About Your Own Teenage Years And Put Yourself In Their Shoes
- 5.2 Talk About The Changes They Will Experience Before Their Teenage Years
- 5.3 Respect Their Privacy
- 5.4 Make Appropriate House Rules
- 5.5 Listen, Support Your Teens Through Whatever They Are Going Through
- 5.6 Don’t Judge Them
- 5.7 Don’t Be Controlling
- 5.8 Expect Arguments, But Still Try To Be Loving
- 5.9 Advise Them Rather Than Forcing Them To Do Something
- 5.10 Show Appreciation When They Do Something You’ve Asked Them To Do
- 6 Summary
So, what is a teenager? That sounds like a silly question but remember, everybody goes through puberty and other adolescent processes at slightly different ages. A teenager is somebody who is going through adolescence, which is generally agreed to be between 13 and 18 years old. Once 18, they’re an adult in most countries.
It’s important to note that puberty isn’t the same as adolescence, despite being the most important part of the process. Puberty often begins a few years before the start of adolescence, when the person is still a child. With boys, puberty will typically onset between 9 and 14 while girls start developing between 8 and 13. Both early and delayed puberty exist, so know which signs to look out for to catch any conditions affecting your child early.
You should know the main signs of puberty by now – you went through it yourself, after all! When puberty starts, you should expect the following:
- The development of secondary sexual characteristics – primarily breasts and menstruation with females.
- An increase in height.
- Changes in the voice, typically to become deeper.
- The thickening of shoulders in males and hips in females.
- The development of facial, underarm, and pubic hair in both sexes.
- A change in temperament towards independence, distancing themselves from their parents and becoming concerned with how others perceive them.
Those are the most common signs that puberty has started, though their personality will also be affected by environmental and social factors. Some teens are more extroverted than others, so they’ll be more outspoken in their opinions, while introverts tend to withdraw quietly. No matter the temperament of your child, it’s often noticeable when they become self-conscious of their image, especially when in the presence of peers their age.
Of course, many of you wouldn’t be here if that was the only change in behavior that comes with puberty and adolescence. In distancing themselves from their parents, many teens become rebellious to their authority and try to flout previously followed rules wherever they can. When this starts, treating them like children will only make the problem worse!
That brings us to our next section – why are teenagers so rebellious?
Why Are Teenagers So Rebellious?
It may sound stereotypical but there is some truth to the so-called rebellious teen. In trying to find independence, a teen can act out in many different ways and may receive punishment from the parents. This can create a situation where an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, where both teen and parents are unwilling to back down. The teen is trying to carve out a new, independent identity for themselves while the parents are trying to preserve an orderly atmosphere that’s becoming outdated. The harder that parents push against their child, the worse the situation typically gets.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that your teen will be so rebellious. Not every teen fits into the stereotype and it depends on a lot of other factors that we can’t account for in this guide. While it’s a guarantee that emotions will run high during your child’s teenage years, many go through adolescence without a strained relationship with their parents.
If a teen is becoming ‘rebellious,’ remember that sometimes there is more substance behind their rebellion, it might not be ‘just a phase.’ Adolescence is where children truly become thinking, rational adults that can grapple with abstract and moral ideas. As they form their own moral code, teens can conform with or reject the codes that their parents follow and may feel the need to take the opposite stances. Sometimes this is temporary, sometimes this is permanent.
In truth, it’s healthy for your child to differ from you in some ways. They shouldn’t outright reject everything they have been taught but they shouldn’t be a carbon copy of your beliefs either, because they are their own person.
Let’s go into more detail about the mental and social pressures that can make a rebellious teen.
Their Brain Is Developing
While they’re nearing the end of their growth journey, adolescence is a period of rapid physical and mental development. We mentioned above how they’re forming their ideas and views on the world but this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, they are spurred by specific brain developments during their teenage years.
Keeping this simple, you should know about two components of our brains – the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex handles rationality and decision-making while the amygdala is used to process information and provide emotional responses and motivations.
Know that during their teenage years, the pathways between the two are still forming. This is why teens feel emotions more intensely and they play a larger role in decision-making than adults.
The balance between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala balance out over time, though the cortex isn’t fully developed until around 25 years of age. As this part of the brain develops, it wants a sparring partner to flex its rational thinking. That’s you, congratulations! That’s where arguments come from and while it may seem like they’re arguing for the sake of it, they’re testing out their ability to form and express arguments.
When forming their own ideas, they start to judge your ideas and they use peer and media examples to do it. This can be intimidating for parents, especially if you know you won’t live up to whatever ideal they’re comparing you to. Fortunately, they’ll often gain a sense of perspective upon reaching adulthood.
They Feel Pressured To Fit In
Along with those biological developments, teens are exposed to more social pressure than ever before during adolescence. You’d be surprised how many things come at teenagers during their most formative years, even if you’ve gone through it!
Here are just a few that we can think up:
- Becoming fashion-conscious and needing to find their own look, from hairstyles to shoe choice and everything in between.
- Becoming conscious of social perception and the way they talk, overthinking what they say and how they sound, and how those are perceived.
- Becoming conscious of media consumption, so they want to watch shows and listen to music that’s socially acceptable amongst their friend groups.
- Becoming conscious of work ethics, either by working hard or taking it easy.
- The desire to fit into social cliques, which often mandates all of the above.
- The negatives of social cliques, mainly peer pressure.
- Peer pressure can then lead to behaviors like drinking, smoking, skipping school, and other negatives.
- Experimentation with things like drinking and smoking, even if no peer pressure is applied.
- Increase in risk-taking behaviors and questioning of authority, sometimes justified, sometimes not.
- Awareness of their physical body, which can come with health and body image concerns.
- Awareness of sexuality, which comes with body image concerns and pressure to date and act sexually.
- Facing all of the above earlier due to the technological influence of things like social media. At earlier ages, teens are more vulnerable to peer pressure and coercion.
- And finally, a relatively new one, the overbearing presence of social media and the Internet in their lives. They are exposed to the thoughts and feelings of countless people, all of the time, which can be exhausting and leave them unsure of who to trust.
Those are just the ones that come to mind, we’re sure you can think of some more!
The last two points may be hard to understand if you’re an older parent. There’s a clear difference between getting your first Facebook account when you’re 30 and growing up with everybody at your school on social media. This is such a new occurrence that we don’t fully understand how it impacts people later in life.
So, just stop them from using it, right? Well, not exactly. That can impact their social participation and cause other undesired effects on their mental health. It’s a balanced issue with benefits and costs. The best you can do is inform yourself, keep your teen informed, monitor activity where necessary, and make sure that they’re mindful of how to conduct themselves online, along with who should be trusted and who should not.
It’s easy to see that adolescence is a very stressful time, even for ideal teens in ideal circumstances. Unfortunately, many teens develop in households that have neglectful or abusive environments. Just by being here, you’re taking an interest in your teenager and that’s sure to help take the burden off of them if you navigate those issues correctly.
That brings us to the next point…
You Are Too Hard On Them
Here’s an uncomfortable truth – many of the problems facing teens are made worse by the poor reactions of their parents. That doesn’t mean the parents are in the wrong more often, they’re not, it just means that their way of tackling and negotiating issues isn’t always the best.
If it isn’t clear already, you’re contending with a natural process. While things like social media and other social/cultural pressures leave room for nuance, you should remember that it’s natural for you and your teen to face issues. Don’t chastise them for acting or dressing in a certain way unless it’s causing direct harm to themselves and others. You don’t want to become a hands-off parent but you should acknowledge that you’re not making things better by cracking down on them.
Where disciplinary actions may have worked for raising children, teens can now question your methods and reason against them. They are developing a sense of conviction which they will use to stand up to authority, firm in the belief that you are wrong and they are right. In those cases, it may be best to let them learn by themselves instead of grounding them or imposing other harsh restrictions. Sometimes, they will be right!
When Should You Really Be Worried About Your Troublesome Teenager?
So, you shouldn’t be too hard on your teenage children, that much is clear. They’re going through a complex and confusing process of finding themselves, so you’re going to butt heads and they’re going to do and say things you disagree with. Letting them do those things and form their own opinions is important to them becoming well-rounded adults.
That said, wise parents will then ask themselves – when do I start worrying? Teens can respond to adolescent pressures in many unhealthy ways that you, as the parent, need to recognize and address. Some of them may be serious enough that you need to call in professional assistance to ensure the healthy development of your child.
Here are the main things you should look out for, along with what you should do if any of them rear their heads during your child’s teenage years.
Serious Changes In Your Teenager’s Mood And Behaviors
From a very young age, you’ve likely recognized certain personality traits in your child. These get mixed up during the teenage years but they should still be recognizable as the same child you’ve raised for the past decade. As their teenage years’ progress, they’ll change in certain ways and stay the same in others.
If your child exhibits drastic changes in their mood and their behaviors, however, then there may be something wrong. Teens are known to be moody anyway, we’ve already covered why their brains are wired to be more emotional, but moods that change on a dime or last for weeks are signs of possible mental health issues.
In those cases, it’s important to be supportive of the teen while seeking help from the correct medical professionals. They shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re the problem or told that they are defective and in need of “fixing,” just that life can be better for them if they seek help from those with their best interests in mind.
Severe Weight Changes
While it’s common to see the development of muscles and other characteristics that change their weight, teens should try to stay a healthy size. If your teen gets too thin or too large, they’ll suffer mental and physical consequences that’ll make their teenage years more stressful than they need to be.
Eating disorders are rarely just a bad habit, there is often some form of mental problem that is motivating them. While we’re familiar with comfort eating, where people eat to relieve stress and medicate trauma, an underweight teen can also be due to anorexia and/or bulimia. These are all very serious issues that won’t be solved by eating healthier and exercising. They’ll need to be treated, preferably by mental health professionals.
Like with the teen’s mood, they shouldn’t feel like they’re the ones at fault. Self-awareness and taking responsibility for their actions can come later in the process of battling against mental trauma, for now, they just need to be supported to get help.
The Teenager Is Withdrawing From Family, Friends, Or Usual Activities
Like with the mood and behaviors of your teen, this one can be easier or harder to diagnose depending on their personality type. Your child should fall into one of the three following categories:
- Introvert: Focuses on internal feelings, so they’re quieter and more reserved, expend energy during social interaction, and “recharge” by themselves afterward.
- Extrovert: Focuses on external feelings and stimuli, so they’re more talkative and assertive, expend energy when alone, and “recharge” by enjoying the presence of others.
- Ambivert: A rare combination of elements of both personality traits
Note that introverts will still be talkative around family members since they’re most familiar with them, but it should still be easy to identify where your child falls amongst those three. The overwhelming majority of people can be pinned as introverts or extroverts, true ambiverts are rarer.
Once you know where your teen stands, it’s easier to see when they’re acting differently than usual. If an extrovert starts to withdraw from everybody then you know something is wrong. Similarly, if an introvert withdraws from activities that once pleased them, something could be wrong there too.
Withdrawal from loved ones can be down to a wide array of things, many of them serious. Whether it’s crushing self-esteem issues or signs that they have been traumatized in some way, you should approach them and try to find out what’s going through their heads, in a way that doesn’t sound like an interrogation. If they give a reason, and it’s a serious one that needs addressing, then you’ll want to find professional help to coach you and your teen through the issues they’re facing.
They Run Away From Home Or Stop Going To School Regularly
Going to school is one of the most consistent obligations that a teenager faces, so something can be wrong when they stop going. Many teens would stop going to school if they had the choice, sure, but not many actually take steps to avoid it. Teens know that skipping school regularly will frustrate their parents and the school system.
If your child is doing that, then they’re likely avoiding something at school. Maybe it’s bad grades from a class they don’t understand, maybe it’s because they’re being bullied, maybe they’re just avoiding gym class because they hate running. The reasons why can vary from the serious to the absurd but it’s still a cause for concern. Try to find out why and be open to their problems, don’t belittle them.
Similarly, it’s also a big problem if they run away from home. No matter how tense their teenage years may get, the home should be a safe space in which they feel comfortable. Maybe you’ve been too strict with them and they feel suffocated, maybe somebody in the home is making them feel uncomfortable or even unsafe, or maybe they’re running towards something instead of away from your home. Find out what it is and, if it’s serious, call the relevant services that can help your teen deal with the issues they’re facing.
What To Do If You Are Concerned Of Your Teenager’s Behaviors
If any of the above issues come up, or something similar that is cause for concern, you should try a few things before assuming the worst:
- Talk to fellow parents about the problem to gain some insight. They will either confirm that their child does the same, which may signal it as typical teenage behavior, or express concern for your teen.
- Talk to other family members who know the child and can act as a second pair of eyes. Don’t overreact or try to convince them of a problem, simply ask if they can see it too and compare notes. If something is wrong, you can then bring consulted family members into a support network.
- Talk to the teen to try and find out more information about their behaviors. If the change has been subtle, you may not want to interrogate them as they’ll feel intruded upon. Remember that you’re trying to help them, not make them even more stressed.
- Once you have an answer or other options have been exhausted, consider professional help. We’ve mentioned professionals several times in this guide, but which ones? School counselors are a great start for social issues that your teen is facing, as are teachers, but for mental issues, you’ll want to consult doctors and other relevant medical consultants.
Tips For Parents During The Teenage Years Of Their Children
Now that you understand more about your teenager and how they act, let’s go through some tips on guiding your teen through these troubling years.
Think About Your Own Teenage Years And Put Yourself In Their Shoes
This is something that many parents try without being told, so you may be one step ahead of us on this one. Your kids are tinier reflections of yourself, after all, so it’s easy to look at them and think back to your own teenage years.
As we mentioned above, there are technological realities today that affect your child that didn’t affect you. This has been true for the last century, sure, there’s a reason your grandparents weren’t so great email. That said, those differences should still be kept in mind.
Try to be informed about any social or technological factors that you can’t relate to directly, so you can better understand your teen’s problems. If you ask about certain things enthusiastically, you can even bond with your teen over your willingness to learn new things that exist for them that didn’t exist for you, when you were young.
Talk About The Changes They Will Experience Before Their Teenage Years
It’s best to start early when it comes to discussing puberty. Along with other adolescent changes, puberty comes with many physical changes that are noticeable and alarming to some kids. They say that if your child is already menstruating or experiencing things like wet dreams, it’s already too late.
With that in mind, answer any questions children have about their bodies before they even become a teenager. There will be opportunities where they ask questions that allow you to give them information. A big example would be where you establish private part boundaries with them. We may use a lot of allegories but make sure the information you feed them is accurate and honest. Yearly physical exams can be a great opportunity to discuss changes with your child and their doctor.
By doing this, they’ll have some vague knowledge of the concepts that become more apparent during teenage years, when their bodies change. Many books can convey useful information in a digestible format, too.
Respect Their Privacy
In keeping tabs on your teen, you might be invading their privacy. Even if you have the best intentions, you should respect the privacy of your own child, especially now they’re finding independence for themselves. Unless you have a serious reason to intervene, let your teenager have their privacy.
What does privacy look like?
- They should have their own room with areas that you don’t look at.
- Their calls, texts, and emails should be private.
- They should be allowed to keep secrets in conversation.
What you should do is know where your teen is going when they venture outside, just for safety reasons. You don’t need to know every detail; teens will even appreciate it if you let them know that you won’t ask for certain information or judge them based on what they might get up to. Remember that trust is a two-way street.
Make Appropriate House Rules
Your house rules should be appropriate and compatible with your teen, along with everybody else in the home.
Remember that teens still need to have a bedtime so they can be productive during the day but it’ll be more relaxed than when they were a child. You can award more time if they’re trustworthy. As for other rules, communicate with your teen so they understand and agree with them. If you can negotiate and find compromises to draft a list of house rules that work for you both, even better!
Listen, Support Your Teens Through Whatever They Are Going Through
You should remember that caring for your child is unconditional, no matter what they are going through. Like with any relationship, communication is key. Teenagers in particular need to be listened to. They have a lot of emotionally charged thoughts bouncing around their head, so directing them to a sympathetic ear can help. If that ear is yours, you’ll have a better relationship with your teen and you’ll be first to know of problems they’re facing.
Don’t Judge Them
Along with listening, you shouldn’t judge them. It’s unfair to establish a safe environment where your teen can talk freely to you and then when they say something you don’t like, snap back at them with judgment. That’s a fast track to giving your child trust issues. If you’re listening, you should suspend judgment for all but the worst-case scenarios.
Don’t Be Controlling
If you haven’t realized already, the key to caring for a teen is establishing an acceptable level of control. This is less than the control you had over your child before adolescence, so it can be difficult to let that go and accept their newfound independence. It’s necessary, however, so you should stop trying to control them.
Expect Arguments, But Still Try To Be Loving
When arguing with family, it’s easy for emotions to run high. Try to treat disagreements with your teen like any other disagreement, a difference in opinion that should be argued calmly and with respect. It won’t always be that easy but you shouldn’t harbor resentment towards them.
Remember that no matter what you argue about, you should still love them. If emotions are running high, take a break but let your teen know that you love them and that any disagreements between you won’t change that.
Advise Them Rather Than Forcing Them To Do Something
As a parent to a teenager, you should transition to become their advisor instead of their carer. Now that they’re responsible to make their own mistakes, you’ll want to have their ear so they come to you for problems and allow you to advise them, without you exercising undue influence in their life.
Remember, if you try forcing them, they’ll just dig their heels in and the problem will become worse. Even if you win, they’ll feel violated and manipulated, and can come to resent you, so was it worth it?
Show Appreciation When They Do Something You’ve Asked Them To Do
With your limited control over their actions as an advisor, it’s time to get appreciative when they do what you want. Every parent has thanked a crying baby when they finally stop but that’s different, the baby doesn’t really know what you did.
With teens, however, they’ll notice when you thank them and show appreciation for their cooperation. You’ll have a much better relationship with your teen if they feel respected, feel like they’re working with you instead of for or against you.
That brings us to the end of our survival guide. You’ve probably noticed that the surest way to survive your child’s teenage years is by making sure they’re happy and healthy. When your teen is happy, they’ll be more willing to cooperate with you where necessary, and they’ll always come back to your passive influence when they need it. You’ll survive each other by keeping each other happy.
Adolescence lasts for a few years, so keeping your teen happy is a process. Try to follow our tips consistently instead of assuming all is well with your teen because of how you’ve treated them in the past.