I know what you are thinking — “ugh, the teenage years” but as scary as they sound they don’t have to be so bad. Young children and teens have very different needs and making the switch from a kid parent to a teen parent can require some mental changes from parents and caregivers. Once you make the mental and emotional transition as a parent, parenting your teen can be quite enjoyable.
Here are three ways to change from parenting a kid to parenting a teen:
1.) Step back as manager and take on the role of coach.
Kids need their parents to make all decisions for them. It is up to mom and dad to set bedtimes and make sure they are fed three healthy meals a day. It is up to parents to manage schedules —plan playdates, activities, make doctor’s appointments, etc. Parents decide where their child goes to school, what activities they sign up for, and where they will go on vacation.
As children grow into teens, the manager role shifts to the teen, and parents take on more of a coaching position. Parents become the advisors, giving their opinions but they aren’t the sole deciders. The teen needs/wants to take on some of that responsibility. Parents who have trouble letting go of the manager role, becoming micromanagers, often can breed rebellion. No teen likes to be told they have to do this or that and feel they have no choice in the matter. Rather, they need guidance and the freedom to make their own choices, even if that means suffering their own consequences. Teens crave control of their lives. Letting up a little and giving them some more freedom of choice can go a long way in your relationship with your teen.
That being said. It doesn’t mean the teen should be allowed to walk all over the parent. It is still up to the parent to set and enforce family rules and parents can and should say “no” when they feel it is necessary. But, consider allowing the teen to have a say in rules and expectations. As a parent start to think of yourself as the emotional support. Ask questions, coach them through decisions, but let them take some of the lead.
2.) Be aware of your influence and the way you speak to your teen.
It is no surprise here but teenagers are super sensitive about their social status. They like to feel they are being treated with the utmost respect. Kids are more receptive to doing as their parents say and responding to the information that their parents provide. Teens, even if they need to hear specific information, tend to react like they are being disrespected when given a lot of advice on a specific topic. For example, eating healthy. If you are talking to your kids about foods that are healthy and why, chances are they will absorb that information and be somewhat receptive to it, even if they still won’t eat their fruits and veggies. Teens will be downright insulted that you are giving them this information in the first place.
It is important as a parent to pay attention to your tone when speaking to your teen—speaking to them as an equal rather than talking down to them. If your teen feels like you are nagging or treating them with disrespect then all bets are off.
3.) Get ready for hard conversations.
Conversations with a kid tend to be easier, lighter. They might be about favorite foods, colors, activities, or the next school project. While not all are easy they can be much more comfortable than conversations with your teen. Conversation topics with teens are trickier — sex, drugs, violence, relationships, and college applications. They become more uncomfortable and harder to approach.
As difficult as it can be to approach these topics it is important as a parent to create a safe space for your teen. This also means, as hard as it is, leaving your own agenda at the door and really listening and supporting your teen and their struggles. Let your teen lead the conversations. Try to not press them for more than they want to give.
It can be helpful to learn some relaxation techniques—breathing, relaxing shoulders— to keep things as calm as possible during high-stress topics. Your teen needs you and they need to feel like they can trust you and turn to you without you turning on them.
If you are struggling with how to transition from parenting a kid to a teen, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional. Counselors or therapists can help guide you on this parenting journey. It is not always easy but it can definitely be rewarding.
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