Up until now, you’ve done your best to be on top of your child’s every behaviour, ready to spot when your child is breaking the rules and pushing the boundaries you’ve worked so hard to set. Now your child is a teenager and it seems that the strategies you’re close to mastering barely even work anymore. What happened? Are you losing your touch? Not necessarily. It’s common to feel like your parenting is off in this stage because your child has changed. The discipline needed in the past worked for someone who depended wholeheartedly on a strong parental figure to show them the way. Now as a teenager, the developmental task of your teen is to take what they’ve learned from your guidance and move from dependence to increasing independence as they build toward adulthood. Maybe you feel your teen isn’t ready for this stage yet. Maybe they aren’t, but that now becomes your new role – coaching them to independence.
Like any good coach, you can no longer jump in and make every decision for your teen. You have the important role of encouraging and cheering your teen on while providing pearls of wisdom at strategic intervals in their life while at the same time giving them space and time to learn some valuable life lessons on their own. Easier said than done?
When shaping adolescent behaviour, I like to divide the parental task into three main categories on an inverted triangle. The biggest section on the top consists of a lot of positive reinforcement. Your teen will still seek your approval even if they don’t admit it. And it’s this positive reinforcement that will help boost their self-esteem and maintain positive communication and trust in your relationship, increasing the chances they’ll come to you when it matters most.
The second largest section in the middle of the triangle is all the decisions that you want to jump on and correct and comment on that you are just going to have to find a way to let go of and ignore. Your youth will do a lot of things you disagree with because that’s just what youth do. Most of these are small details that you can learn to live with. Give your teen the opportunity to spread their wings and try stuff that might make you uncomfortable. Feel free to ask them about why they made certain choices and learn about their interests and thinking patterns. You can gain some valuable insight just by listening without judgement.
The smallest section on the tip of the triangle includes punishment and consequences. Some parents have a tendency to want to jump in and rescue all the time but this isn’t always helpful for your teen’s development. Instead, let your teen experience some natural consequences of their decisions. Also, there are still going to be some firm boundaries that you set and continue to enforce. Be consistent with the non-negotiable rules. Overall, help your teen learn how to face consequences because they will have to deal with them in the real world beyond your home.
When parenting your teenager it can be helpful to think of the kind of adult you want your child to be: one who can reason and think through the consequences of most situations or one that needs someone else to help them make choices in life. Don’t step back and leave them to figure life out on their own but don’t be overly intrusive and controlling either. You’re still their parent but your intention should be different, meeting the critical needs of this stage of life.