Having an adolescent in the home isn’t always a joy. In fact, it can be a regular challenge to deal with the emerging adult who has taken the place of the small child you thought of as your baby. Building and maintaining your relationship is a vital part of helping your child grow into a successful adult. Here are a few tips:
Allow Them to Have Their Space
Adolescents start to push away from their parents and become less dependent on them. Don’t treat this rejection. It’s their way of forming an identity that is independent of you and we want that to happen. They will want to spend more time with their peers and, while frustrating, that’s also ok. The primary goal of teen years is developing independence which requires them to pull away from you. Teens are developing more abstract thought and rationality, as well as developing their own values.
Don’t try to force information out of your teen. Instead, be present and create opportunities for your teen to open up to you. Car rides can be a great opportunity for this. The key is to listen.
Invest in Your Relationship
Find time each day to check in with your teen. It can be just a few minutes of conversation or a longer talk. Don’t expect your child to open the floodgates each time that you chat and talk to you like their therapist. Short conversations build a connection and can lead up to longer talks.
Take time out of your week to do something special with your teen. This might be grabbing something at Starbucks together, watching reality TV, or walking the dog. Make sure that there is an element of undivided attention. The key is making it into quality time.
Don’t forget about the importance of family meals, too. This can be tricky as teen schedules get more complicated. Sitting down together can foster relationships and create space for conversation.
Be present for things that matter for your teen. This might be a school play or a sporting event.
Encourage Good Self-Care
Many of us still have the self-care habits that we developed as teenagers. This might be sleep, exercise, or nutrition. Your teen is still growing and brain development continues long after their physical bodies mature.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that teens get between eight and ten hours of sleep each night. This can be tricky with early school start times and internal biological clocks that want them to stay up later and sleep in longer. Make sure to talk to your teen about their nightly routine:
- Take time to unwind before bed.
- Turn off screens early – at least 30 minutes before bedtime
- Discourage napping
- Stay on a consistent schedule
Risky behavior is also a challenge for teens, particularly as they learn how to drive. Make sure to talk about and set expectations around safety. Talk about the consequences for risky behaviors, like driving fast, using the cell phone in the car, or getting in a vehicle with someone who has had a drink.
Mental health is incredibly important, too. Help your teen learn how to manage stress and develop relaxation skills. Loneliness and isolation can lead to mental health problems. Pay attention to warning signs such as:
- Sleep problems
- Rapid changes in personality
- Sudden changes in friends
- Failing grades
- Talking or joking about suicide
- Extreme weight gain or loss
Make sure that your teen knows who they can talk to, even if it isn’t you. If you suspect your teen has a mental health issue, reach out to your pediatrician or your school counselor.
Have Difficult Conversations
Most of us don’t really want to talk to our kids about difficult topics like sex and drugs. If we don’t, however, we run the risk of our teens learning not just the information from other sources, but internalizing values from elsewhere as well. This doesn’t mean that you need to sit them down for the “big talk,” but instead have it be an on-going conversation. Keep it developmentally appropriate and don’t shy away from answering their questions.
Conversations about how and when to use technology are important. Tech plays a huge role in the lives of teens and has changed dating, socialization, and everyday communication. Stay aware of the latest apps and social media sites.
Help them learn about Identity theft – It’s more and more likely that it will happen. Talk about phishing and other scams. Managing their online reputation is important also. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Everything can be Googled. Don’t put something online that you don’t want grandma to see.
Talk about digital wellness. Model healthy behavior with screens and set limits for where phones can and can’t be (e.g. not at the dinner table).