Must Have Strategies for Parents of Teens
Dawn DiRaimondo, Psy.D - June 2, 2011
As a parent of two and a psychologist, I know that being a parent is one of the toughest jobs of your life. To parent a teenager- and a challenging teenager at that, you need to have really effective strategies to navigate through these years. Some small changes can go a long way and help you feel empowered again as a parent. Children of all ages desperately need both love and limits. Developmentally, adolescents are frequently pushing the boundaries for more of what they want, testing the rules. They need these boundaries and limits to bump up against in order to grow into successful, healthy adults.
Keep in mind that almost everything your teen enjoys is a privilege NOT a right. Cell phone, TV, computer, car, ability to see friends, money. Parents and teens often forget who makes this possible- you do. If their choices and behaviors are not following the rules, than they need to feel a consequence from their choices. Take out some of the emotion, and get more behavioral. Here are some suggestions to how:
- 1 - Keep Consequences Short but not so Sweet: Don’t throw away your leverage as a parent. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is grounding kids for much longer than what is effective. Although it may seem like a month of being grounded fits the crime, in truth it doesn’t really work. Time is experienced different for teens than adults. One month feels like three, a day feels like a week. My suggestion is try and take privileges away for just a day- or the rest of the evening. Let every day be a new start. Depending on the behavior, maybe a few days is more appropriate but rarely do I recommend going over a week. The reason is that either the parents give in early; looking inconsistent or the teen can’t tolerate the time and sneaks the phone, television, or computer behind the parents’ back.
- 2 - If you have to give in early- make sure they earn back the privilege: It is important that the message you send is that good choices and behaviors allow them to maintain their priveledges, bad choices/behaviors cause consequences. For example, if after a couple of days your teen is on their best behavior, you’re proud and they are begging for their phone back or to go to the movies, if you have to give in (and I wouldn’t always recommend you do) but if you must, make them to do something to earn this back early, such as clean your car or vacuum the house. The message stays consistent- you earn privileges, you don’t just have them.
- 3 - Be very clear on expectations. If there any loopholes to be found, a teen will jump right through it. I recommend developing a core chart together with your teen. Write down not only what the chores are but what day and time they need to be done by. “After dinner” may mean 7:00 to you and 10:00 to your child. I would be very specific, the more concrete, the better. Post this on the refrigerator or somewhere easily seen. If you have more than one child, make it clear who is doing what. Also make it clear what the consequence is for not doing that chore on time, i.e. lose the phone or TV for the night. A helpful reminder ten minutes before the task should be done is fine but this should help reduce the overall nagging and arguments significantly. Again the emphasis is on making choices. This helps prepare them for the “real world.” An example I use with teens in my practice is if I choose to speed on the freeway and get pulled over, the police office won’t say, “I am just so disappointed in you, I really expected more from you.” No, they give me a big ticket. So- if your teen chooses not to do a chore, they are essentially choosing to deal with the expected consequence of that choice.
- 4 - Rules without Relationship Equals Rebellion. This phrase was termed by a psychologist by the name of Scott Sells, Ph.D. This essentially means that the better your relationship is with your child, the more influence you have over them. Make sure you take time to stay connected- or get reconnected. Spend 1:1 time with them, do activities you enjoy where you are not talking about school, chores or topics of tension. Plan this together so they know when this will happen and not right before they are expecting to hang out with their friends or watch their favorite TV show (as always avoid set-ups to more fighting). This balance of enjoying time together will be good for both of you.
- 5 - Last but not least- Pace yourself, this can be a long and bumpy road. Thank you’s are probably far and few between these days. Take care of yourself too. Moms can be especially good at putting everyone else’s needs’ first. Get support if needed, maybe even your own therapy. Find time to work out, see friends, and have your own hobbies. I know it’s easier said then done but a grounded, healthy mom and dad is a vital part of a happy home life. And this helps support the development of stable, well- rounded individuals… eventually. The light at the end of the tunnel often starts shining in the late teens, early twenties. Hang in there and seek professional help if needed.
Dawn DiRaimondo, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychologist who currently lives in Northern California. Her private practice specializes in working with adolescents, young adults and families. For more information, you can view her profile at Psychology Today or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (916)554-7255.
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