By Meghan Vivo
You want to be the best parent you can be — you read the parenting books, spend time with your child and try to stay up to date on the latest teen trends. But are you really listening to your teen? Here are a few things they may want you to know:
1. Times have changed.
You may think you know what it’s like to be a teenager – after all, you once were one. But times have changed, and a new breed of pressures and dangers are facing your teen. Sex happens younger; binge drinking can start as early as middle school; gambling is available to anyone on the Internet; and alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs are hardly considered dangerous anymore (even though they are actually more dangerous than ever).
You may know what it’s like to be a teenager – but your child knows what it’s like to be a teenager today. Rather than making assumptions, talk to your teen about what’s happening at school and in their relationships. Not only can you learn a few things from your teens, but they can make you a stronger, more compassionate person if you let them.
2. Teens need help managing the stresses and pressures in their lives.
Adolescents don’t instinctively know how to grow into healthy adults. They are accustomed to a fast-paced lifestyle and are in a rush to grow up. In order to actually grow up instead of just acting grown up, teens need guidance from their parents. Whether that guidance comes in the form of family game nights, nightly discussions around the dinner table or weekend activities, teens with caring, involved parents are well-equipped to grow into happy, productive adults.
Shocking as it may be, sometimes adolescents want you to say no. By setting and enforcing rules, parents give teens predictability and structure, as well as a way to combat peer pressure. Left to their own devices, teens often do whatever it takes to be accepted by other teens, including falling in with the wrong crowd, getting in trouble with the law and failing in school. Without your caring oversight, teens are left feeling isolated and alone.
3. Teens want more responsibility (and the trust that comes with fulfilling those responsibilities).
In a hurry to grow up, teens are willing to prove their maturity and readiness to take on more responsibilities. Part of their motivation is to gain your trust and additional privileges, but another part stems from simply wanting to feel valued.
A sense of responsibility helps adolescents feel vital to the family system. When you have enough confidence in your child to assign them chores and duties, they feel confident in themselves and their abilities. Even when teens act like they want to be left alone to hang out with friends and do as they wish, they need their parents’ love and guidance.
4. Unlocked medicine cabinets are an open invitation to teens and their friends to abuse prescription drugs.
Research shows that teen abuse of prescription drugs such as Ritalin, Xanax, OxyContin and Vicodin is one of the biggest threats facing adolescents today. Among youth ages 12-17, prescription drugs have become the second most abused illegal drug (second only to marijuana).
Most teens report getting prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinet or from their friends (who often take drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets). According to Joseph Califano, chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), “easily accessible medicine cabinets containing these very drugs are an open invitation to children — fueling ‘pharming’ parties where teens bring drugs from home and trade or share for purposes of getting high.”
To keep your teens safe, lock your medicine cabinets, properly dispose of prescription drugs you no longer need, and talk to your teens about the dangers of abusing prescription and over-the-counter medications.
5. Even “good” kids act out every once in awhile.
It is the very nature of adolescents to push boundaries. Even teenagers that get straight A’s, come home on time and treat their parents with respect might be caught lying a time or two.
Resist the temptation to label your teen a “good” or “bad” kid. If you’re watching carefully enough, you can always find your child making mistakes. While it’s important to set rules and monitor your teen, it is equally important to catch your teen doing something right and praise their efforts.
If you are noticing more than an occasional slip-up (for example, if your teen is repeatedly lying, disrespecting your authority or engaging in other troubling behaviors), you may need help to get them back on track before they fall into a downward spiral. Therapeutic programs for teens, such as wilderness programs, residential treatment centers and therapeutic boarding schools, are able to bring out the best in troubled teens and help them re-engage in school and their relationships.
6. Teens need time to relax and unwind.
Parents often underestimate how difficult it is to be a teenager. Between school, peer pressure, family conflict and trying to define their identity, adolescents confront a great deal of stress on a daily basis. In fact, teens cite stress as the number-one reason they use drugs or alcohol.
Just as parents need time to unwind after a long day at work, teens need time to do something they enjoy each day. Whether your teen likes to play sports, read a book or play on the computer, allow them a few minutes of personal time. When monitored and time-limited, even video games, Internet surfing and television can be an acceptable way to unwind.
7. Teens want their parents to be proud of them.
Teens want their parents to be proud of them and accept them for who they are. This means resisting the urge to compare your child to others. Parents often use the comparison tactic to try to motivate their children to work harder in school, but it rarely works. Teens already spend their days assessing how they measure up and feeling badly about themselves – they are relying on you to be their biggest supporter.
8. Teens hate when their parents fight.
Teenagers watch their parents carefully to understand how romantic relationships work. They need strong role models who show them how to treat others with respect even if they don’t always agree.
Conflict at home is unsettling for everyone. If you’re struggling to set a good example, get help from a marriage and family therapist or other professional. Don’t take it out on your kids.
9. Teens care what their parents think.
Peers have a great deal of influence on your teen, but studies show you have more. For example, in a 2004 National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy study, less than one-third of teens cited friends as having the most impact on their decisions about sex, while nearly half of teens said their parents were the most influential.
According to Project Teen Canada, a decades-long study of 5,500 Canadian teenagers, nine out of 10 teens describe their mothers as having a high level of influence in their lives, and eight in 10 say the same of their fathers. In addition, teens reported fewer arguments and feeling less misunderstood by their parents in 2008 than in previous years.
Adolescents who are strongly connected to their parents perform better in school and are less likely to smoke, abuse drugs and engage in other destructive behaviors. Even if you feel you’ve lost all influence, keep talking – your teens are listening.
10. Your teen really loves you.
Your teen may not show it, but they really do love you. As they grow into adults, they pull away so they can establish their own identity. Don’t take the distance personally – you are the most important person in your child’s life, and staying connected during adolescence means even closer bonds in adulthood.