Your Cheat Sheet for Parenting Teens

An african-american woman and her son standing in a kitchen.

Parenting your teen is not easy, no day is exactly alike, but it can be very rewarding when you see the confident, happy adult they become. To help you navigate the curveballs these years will throw you, here is your cheat sheet for parenting teens:

Be a Good Role Model

If you have always been the type of parent that says, “Do As I Say, Not As I Do,” this is the time to make some changes. Teens are at their stage of development when they are questioning everything and they will have no problem calling you out on your hypocrisy. They are going to be more likely to trust you and respect your rules if you follow them yourself and are consistent with enforcing them.

Be Empathetic to Their Reality

Instead of getting frustrated with them, when they are easily upset by what you deem as inconsequential, practice empathy and see things from their point of view. Acknowledge their feelings and work together on solution to the problem. And remember sometimes they just need a hug and to hear a “I Love you” from you.

Don’t Try to Change Them

As parents, we all have hopes and dreams for our kids and sometimes it can be hard to let go when our kids seem to be heading in a different direction then we hoped. But it is important to not let your desires for them to push them to be something they are not. It will just lead your teen to feel bad about themselves and can sink them into depression. As long as they are not hurting themselves or others, give them the freedom to find out who they want to be on their own.

Always Be Loving & Affectionate

As they get older, you are probably feeling your teen pull away from you a little. Where they used to love to snuggle up and cuddle with you and always looking for hugs and kisses, now they are holed up in their room and on their phone all the time. It is also probably getting harder to get them to spend much time talking and hanging out with you.

Teens are generally going to prefer to spend most of their time with their friends and shy away from public displays of affection from you, but don’t let that stop you from trying to stay engaged with them. They might act like they don’t want any attention from you, but secretly they do. So every day tell them how much you love them and ask about their day and when you can, sneak in that hug and kiss in whenever you can. Even just simply hanging out in the same room as them can foster some connection between you.

Be Clear About Your Expectations

Part of being a teen is of course pushing boundaries as far as they can, but that doesn’t mean that those boundaries are not necessary. You need to set clear and reasonable expectations. Decide what is most important and don’t sweat the small stuff. For instance, while getting straight A’s is always nice, it is not doable for every kid so just emphasize doing their best and studying hard instead. If they seem to be really struggling with a subject, but you know they are really trying, don’t get mad. Get them the help they need and celebrate when they are able to bring up their grade. Remember it is more important to raise your children to be kind, honest and generous people, then it is for them to be at the top of their class or to be the head cheerleader or star football player.

And when it comes to chores and curfews, remember that your child’s safety is always paramount so don’t be afraid to discipline when you need to. Just make sure you make it a teaching moment so they learn from their mistakes. Don’t belittle them; focus on the action and how they can correct it. Don’t make them ashamed of their overall character or abilities. If they think you enjoy controlling them or making them feel bad, they will just fight harder against you. Try to encourage them when you see them being helpful and respectful.

Be Flexible When You Can

There will be certain rules that are nonnegotiable because of safety issues, but for the other rules, as your teen demonstrates responsibility, encourage it by giving them a little more freedom. There is no hard fast rule on this. You know your child best and are the best one to decide what they can and cannot handle.

Work on Yourself Too

You are human and have your own baggage that you are dealing with so don’t be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes. The important thing is to recognize it when you do and to try to fix it as best as possible. Show your vulnerable side with your teen so they know that you struggle too.

Big things you want to avoid doing is to not always expect the worst of your teen. You might think setting low expectations might be easier because it won’t be so disappointing when they don’t reach it, but this won’t help them grow. Encourage them to reach for the stars. The key though is not to focus on the big awards, but on their personal growth and achievements as they go after their passions.

It is not easy being the parent to a teen, but it is a rewarding experience. Watching your children grow into who they are meant to be is a beautiful thing and so is strengthening your bond with them so you stay close even when they fly the coup. Don’t end today without telling your teen that you love her.