Parenting during the adolescent years often comes with frustration and angst for both parents and teens. Parents can survive the teenage years and help their teens thrive by understanding what adolescence is and having tips to deal better with its ups and downs. 

What is adolescence?

Adolescence is a term that refers to a period when a child transitions into an adult. This typically occurs between ages 13 and 19.  For teenagers, this time is marked by physical and psychological changes. 

As adults, it’s easy to forget what it was like being a teenager. Sometimes all parents need is a little insight and some helpful advice to help navigate the age of adolescence with their child.

Be a role model

The teenage years are a fantastic time because kids are developing their own personalities and getting a sense of who they are. But they also have a lot of questions and curiosity. As adults we need to be patient with them as they try to figure themselves out. 

For parents, one approach to navigating your child’s teenage behaviors and attitudes is to serve as a role model. Children watch everything parents say and do from the time they are infants. It’s up to parents to model the behavior they want to see in their children. 

Teens typically start to develop their own personalities in junior high. They begin to discover what they like or dislike and start to form friendships with others who have similar interests, whether it’s sports, theater, or academics. Whatever their interests, be supportive of them. 

Social media and its impact on the teen years

While the platforms may change, social media is a constant in today’s teen life. Whether it’s Instagram, SnapChat or TikTok, teenagers are turning to social media to stay in touch with friends, uncover various elements about themselves, and understand what being a teen means in society. Unfortunately, this can become problematic due to the massive amount of inaccurate information promoted on social media platforms.

Adolescents are exposed to much information that is not true, just as they’re developing their own personalities and sense of self. Unfortunately, they often believe whatever is online to be the truth. Parents must stress to their teens that not everything on the internet is accurate and true. 

This post on the pros and cons of social media offers more insight for parents and teens. 

Set clear and consistent expectations 

Parents can help their child’s development through the adolescent years by setting clear expectations and being consistent with enforcing those expectations. Some things can be negotiable and will differ from one family to another, such as curfews and cosmetic-related choices (think blue hair, piercings, wearing make-up, etc.). Other aspects should be non-negotiable—drug or alcohol use, sexual activity, riding with another newly-licensed driver, texting while driving, or anything that puts your child in harm’s way.

Again, role modeling comes into play here as well. As a parent, the adage of, “I’m the parent so that behavior is okay for me,” does not work well. Parents must understand that teens come to hold resentment if mom and dad are exhibiting behaviors in contrast to expectations.

Communication is a two-way conversation

When raising a teen, communication is crucial. It’s common for teens to feel like they’re not being heard, whether it’s about something “silly” or a real, deep-seated issue they’re having. The most important thing parents can do is just listen. 

A helpful tip for parents is what I refer to as the rule of “three to five.” When talking to a teenager and giving them advice, say it in three to five sentences and no more. If you go beyond that five-sentence mark, now you're nagging and you sound like that teacher from the Peanuts comics. The fact is our teenagers are no longer listening to us once we go beyond that much information.

You can also be up front with your teenager and discuss how they want to communicate. Do they want feedback? Do they want you to offer advice? Teens should be active participants in determining the communication style they desire.

And you don’t have to wait until they are a teenager to work on this! Start early on, and by the time your child becomes a teen, they’ll be much more adept at communicating with you. 

Help for parents and teens 

Of course, if at any time you find yourself really struggling in your relationship with your teen, there’s always the option of therapy. Family therapy or counseling is not just for “dysfunctional” families. 

The fact is, we're all struggling. Therapy can help you develop new, healthy skills to talk with and listen to each other. Often families are all struggling with the same things, and therapists can help you through that. The key is don't wait until it gets more difficult. The sooner you can intervene with something, the better luck you’ll have in terms of fixing it.

If you and your teen are having difficulty managing the ups and downs of adolescence, learn more about the experts at Bradley Hospital who are here to help you and your family. 

For more tips on parenting, check out other posts on the Growing section of the Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

Gary Regan, LICSW

Gary Regan, LICSW

Gary Regan is a licensed independent clinical social worker and the clinical director of the Adolescent Partial Hospital and SafeQuest programs at Bradley Hospital.