Guide to Dealing With Your Teenager's Challenges

Guide to Dealing with Your Teenager’s Challenges

As most parents know, raising a teenager can be a challenge. In a landscape riddled with social and emotional landmines, unprovoked outbursts, irrational thinking, and a bevy of new and possibly harmful experiences ahead, it’s no wonder that many parents feel overwhelmed when it comes to providing guidance for their teenage son or daughter.

But as any good parent knows, in order to better raise your growing child, you need to grow along with them. That means switching up your parenting and discipline strategies, learning to give your teenager a bit more independence, and, most importantly, actively developing patience and an understanding of their issues.

Before getting into the techniques and strategies you can use to make dealing with your teenager’s challenges easier, it’s important to understand a bit of background on the changes they’re going through.

Understanding Developmental Changes in Teenagers

As with any developmental period, the more you know about what your teenager is going through internally, the better equipped you’ll be to help them overcome the obstacles of this particularly difficult stage of growth.

When it comes to physical changes in the body, the teenage years are especially bumpy. Puberty, the physical maturation of a child, usually begins around the ages of 10 to 14 for girls and 12 to 16 for boys. It’s during this stage that their sexual organs, as well as their secondary sexual characteristics, begin to develop. For girls, that means the growth of breasts and body hair along with the widening of hips. Boys will experience a deepening voice, increased body and facial hair, and broadening of shoulders.

For many teenagers, these rapid and noticeable changes can be a great source of embarrassment. Both early and late bloomers might find themselves insecure about how different they now look from their peers, and they may even be subjected to teasing and bullying at school because of it.

Beyond that, teenagers will usually experience quick bursts of intense growth, sometimes shooting up several inches in just a few months. With such a short period of time to get used to their new body, many teenagers will feel clumsy and uncoordinated while they adjust, leading to even more insecurity.

While the hardships that come with these observable changes might be difficult for your child to get used to, some of the biggest changes actually occur in the mind. Although your teenager might be taller than you and appear to be almost an adult, the truth is the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of about 25.

For adults over that age, most of our decisions are based on the thought processes controlled by the frontal cortex, a region dedicated to rational thinking and predicting the consequences of our actions. For teenagers, however, their frontal cortex is still in the developmental phases. As a result, teens tend to react to situations with their amygdala, an almond-sized structure in the brain that’s responsible for immediate reactions like fear and aggression.

What does that mean for teenagers? In addition to the raging hormones and social pressures that these years bring, your teenager is also stuck making decisions using an emotional brain rather than a rational one.

The takeaway from this is that your teen son or daughter is experiencing a flurry of new emotions, impulses, desires, and insecurities during this period. Consequently, their actions and reactions might seem a bit over-the-top to you. But if you make an effort to be especially patient with them and try to connect as much as possible, you and your teenager will both be happier because of it.

A great resource for finding out more about your teenager’s intellectual and emotional development is the National Institute of Mental Health’s publication The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction.

Bonding with Your Teenager

One of the great challenges of parenting during these years is finding a way to maintain a connection with your teenager. This can be especially difficult as it was likely just a few years ago that your son or daughter was a happy little kid that wanted nothing more than to have your undivided attention. However, if you maintain a good, respectful relationship and an open line of communication as they grow up, it can make things easier through the teenage years.

But between the fierce new independence, the social groups that they just won’t stop talking about, and their unwillingness to communicate as much with you, it can be tough to actually have a conversation with your teenager. With a little patience and persistence, however, connecting with your teen can help them to overcome their obstacles and help you to better understand what’s going through their head.

One of the best ways of opening up your lines of communication is by finding a common ground with your teen. It could mean a love of cooking or action movies, an interest in sports or theater, camping, or even just a hobby like video games or knitting. The key here is to find something that you can do together. Finding a way to create more face-time with your teenager can do wonders for your relationship. It will give them more opportunities to open up about issues that might be on their minds.

If your teen does decide to open up to you about an issue, it’s important that you listen to them without offering advice or judgement. Unless they specifically ask for your two cents, or they are in a particularly dangerous or inappropriate situation, your teenager is most likely just looking for someone to listen to them or is trying to include you in their life. If you criticize them, they might not be so willing to open up in the future. Asking helpful questions or offering them food for thought may help them come to healthy conclusions to issues they are dealing with, on their own.

Another tip for communicating is to be fully present in the moment. While you might be tempted to check emails or read the newspaper during family breakfast or dinner, this is actually the best time to check in with your teenager about what’s going on in their life. Try to make these gatherings as distraction-free as possible (e.g. no phones, TV, or magazines). Choose to be fully committed to family time.

One of the best tips for communicating with your teen son or daughter is get used to (and get over) being rejected. Teenagers are always trying to assert their independence and, as a result, will typically recoil from their parents as much as they can. Even though your son or daughter might seem distant and indifferent, every child needs to feel loved. Simply making the effort to be available to them lets them know you care.

If you need advice on how to talk to your teenager or want to learn more about what they might be going through, feel free to call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736) or head over to the Teen Health & Wellness organization’s website where you can find a variety of resources to help you understand issues such as bullying, school violence, and sexuality.

Disciplining Your Teenager

As every parent knows, no matter how strong your bond might be, you’ll eventually have to discipline your teenager. Some people find this aspect of parenting to be especially difficult during the teen years either because their son or daughter is particularly defiant, or the parent is being too lax in order to get on their good side. Either way, your role as a parent is to protect your teenager (within reason) and ensure respectful obedience.

In order to do that, you must create rules and structure for your teenager to follow. Curfews, bedtimes, electronic device regulations, chores, and academic expectations are all ways that you can add structure to your teen’s life and help keep them from neglecting their duties. As long as these rules are within reason (e.g. no 7 o’clock bedtimes) and are communicated, it is your responsibility to stick to the punishment associated with not following them.

When it comes time to discipline them for not obeying the rules of the house, there are two crucial tips for dealing with the aftermath: keep your cool and give them some space. Just as you likely won’t be able to make the best decisions when you’re upset, your teenager might just need to rethink their actions once they have a clearer head. Both of these strategies will ensure that both you and your teenager don’t make the situation worse by entering into an emotionally charged debate. If coming home after curfew (without a really good reason) means not going out the following weekend, stick to that rule and follow through. You are likely to have less pushback and can avoid a debate if the rules and consequences have been established. Knowing there are consequences to bad decisions will hopefully steer your teenager toward making good decisions.

Beyond simple obedience, the structure you create will also give your teenager something they can rely on. In a world of chaotic feelings and social relationships that change from hour to hour, having the stability of dinner at 6:30p.m. or family night every Tuesday can mean the world to a teen.

Where to Seek Help

Parenting can be tough job. And if you are raising a family by yourself, the burden can be even heavier. But when your teenager begins to exhibit especially troubling behaviors like heavy alcohol and drug use, violent actions at home or at school, or threatening physical harm to others, it may be time to seek professional help.

That’s why it’s important for you to realize that there are options to help you manage an especially troublesome child. In addition to the helplines referenced above (the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736) or the Teen Health & Wellness organization’s website), parents can also choose to seek professional family counseling.

Doing so will not only give you an objective perspective on your troublesome teenager’s actions, it can also help facilitate communication between family members and give you access to expert advice from a qualified professional. A good place to start is GoodTherapy.org, where you can use their counselor locator to find help near you.

Parents can also choose to use residential programs that will house your teenager over an extended period of time. Boarding schools, summer programs, and short retreats can all give your difficult teen the professional help they just might need. Have a look at P.U.R.E. (Parents Universal Resource Experts) for more information on these programs.

Anyone looking to find more information on the topic can use the search terms “teenager advice for parents,” “raising teens help,” or “teenager behavior tips.”

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