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Think There’s No Instruction Manual For Raising Teens? Think Again

Posted 3/31/2016 by UHBlog

If you need guidelines on setting ground rules for your teenager, ask us.

Think There’s No Instruction Manual For Raising Teens? Think Again

Just when you think you’ve finally gotten a handle on the most effective ways to raise and support your child, the teenage years hit – and suddenly everything changes.

“The teenage years are a challenging developmental period,” says clinical psychologist Carolyn Ievers-Landis, PhD. “Teenagers don’t have the fully developed frontal lobes that adults have, which can really affect their judgment and impulse control. They feel a little freer to try new things without thinking about how it might affect their physical safety or emotional well-being. At the same time, they’re starting to think really deeply about the world and questioning how everything works.”

Your most important responsibility during this time is to ensure nothing irreversible happens that harms your child emotionally or physically, says levers-Landis. This might make you feel alternately, at times, like a referee, cop and/or defense attorney. But it’s also important to remember that this period can be a fun time of growth and exploration for both you and your teen.

To make the transition smoother, Ievers-Landis offers these time-tested tips for raising teens:

  • Embrace the transition – As your teen explores new ideas and beliefs, listen to what she is saying, rather than automatically rejecting it.
    “This time period can be an opportunity for you to really look at things from a new lens and consider situations in a fresh way,” she says. “I am always coming away with new ideas on the world after talking with my kids and teenage patients.”
  • When your teen wants to talk, give him your full attention – You’re probably used to your child being sullen or silent when you ask him questions. So, when your teenager seeks you out, it’s important to listen fully, meaning step away from your phone and invest fully in the conversation.
    “It’s so important to try to understand what your teenager is thinking,” levers-Landis says. “You want your child to feel like they can share their deep thoughts with you.”
    If your child doesn’t feel like he is being heard – or if he gets a negative reaction from you – he may stop confiding in you or turn to other, less trust-worthy sources.
  • Remember you’re her parent, not her friend – “You are not always going to make rules that your child agrees with – and that’s okay,” she says.
    As a parent, it’s your responsibility to keep your child safe – which might be at odds with the endorphin-driven rush your teenager seeks. Stand firm. And sometimes – though she’d never admit it – your teen is grateful to have those boundaries and a ready-made excuse to get out of an activity, levers-Landis says.
  • Teach him that adult privileges come with adult responsibilities – One of your main jobs as a parent is to help your child learn accountability and self-reliance, which is best learned through practice.
    Begin by discussing family rules and expectations with your child, and let him earn privileges when he demonstrates mature behavior and decision-making.
    “For instance, if a child is driving and they want to take the car, it’s good to have certain expectations in place,” she says. “Maybe the expectation is that they’ll pay for the gas, or let you know when they’ve arrived at their destination and keep to their curfew.”
    As he consistently models good decision-making, you can allow him more freedom, levers-Landis says.
  • Stick to your rules – Teenagers don’t learn anything – except that your rules are always up for negotiation – if you cave in too often, especially when it comes to curfews.
    “If a child calls and asks to extend their curfew, it might not seem like a big deal,” says levers-Landis. “But our research shows that risks can become greater as the hour gets later.”
  • Role-play dangerous situations – Teenagers encounter risky temptations, like hard drugs and alcohol, at earlier ages. Talk to your teen about how to avoid or get out of these situations before they occur.
    “These are really important – and possibly life-saving – conversations to have,” she says.
  • Be a good role model – Many chronic, avoidable diseases – such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure – are showing up in teens. Help your child avoid these conditions by making healthy eating and exercise something your whole family practices together.
    “Social support is so important for engaging in a healthy lifestyle,” says levers-Landis. “You want to make it as easy as possible for your child to make positive food and exercise choices.”
  • Monitor what your teen sees, posts and reads on her electronic devices – Unfortunately, many teenagers have learned the hard way that, in cyberspace, everything they type and post is permanently traceable, says levers-Landis. On the Internet, there is no such thing as privacy.
    “I really believe you should tell your teen that you will be checking their texts, their phones and their computer browsing history,” she says. “I don’t think kids realize that if anything happens, police can look at every single text and email they’ve ever sent.”
    Monitoring what your teens are watching – and who they are talking to – is a key part of keeping them safe.
    “You don’t want to be blindsided later on,” she says.

Carolyn Ievers-Landis, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Ievers-Landis or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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