Parenting Tips

Perhaps the only thing more difficult than being a teenager is parenting one.

While hormones, the struggle for independence, peer pessure, and an emerging identity wreak havoc in the soul of the adolescent, issues of how much autonomy to grant, how much "attitude" to take, what kind of discipline is effective, which issues are worth fighting about, and how to talk to offspring-turned-alien challenge parental creativity, patience, and courage.

If adolescence can be conceptualized as a journey from childhood to adulthood, parenting adolescents can also be thought of as a journey.

To guide a child to adulthood, to ingrain values, to help negotiate social relationships, and to see new ideas, ideals, goals, and independence emerge in a child can be the adventure of a lifetime.  Like any adventure, the thrill is in the journey. 

Challenges conquered sweeten success, and while failure is in part unavoidable, no one can know how the balance of success and failure measures out until the journey is complete.  As long as the journey continues, there is hope: a chance to turn failures into success, weaknesses to strengths.

Like any adventure, the challenges are unique to each traveler.  Even the same parent will experience different challenges as each child is guided through adolescence.  Because each journey is unique, there is no way to smooth all the bumps, anticipate all the challenges, or detonate all the land mines beforehand.  However, there are aspects of the journey that appear to be universal.

Although teenagers will make their own choices, a good home life can increase the odds that kids will avoid many of the pitfalls of adolescence.  Particularly, a kind, warm, solid relationship with parents who demonstrate respect for their children, an interest in their children's activities, and set firm boundaries for those activities may directly or indirectly deter criminal activity, illegal drug and alcohol use, negative peer pressure, delionquency, sexual promiscuity, and low self-esteem. 

There is not only growing consensus that some parenting techniques are better than others, but also contribute to the development of emotional stability and social responsibility in children.

There are three major areas that are crucial to the parent-adolescent relationship -- connection, monitoring, and psychological autonomy.  

The combination of connection, monitoring, and psychological autonomy may sound simple, but the simplicity of the directions can be frustrating to navigators when they are lost.  Translating general ideas into specific behaviors, and then into patterns of interaction can be a challenge, especially if one or both parties are already entrenched in less productive patterns of interaction.  The task of establishing a warm, caring, positive, relationship characterized by kindness with a teenager whose favorite phrases are "you just don't understand" and "leave me alone" can be daunting, but if you can  concentrate on a three-pronged approach to managing the journey through adolescence, the outcome is likely to be a positive and rewarding relationship.

First, a positive relationship with your child is essential to success.  When parent-child interactions are characterized by warmth, kindness, consistency, respect, and love, the relationship will flourish, as will self-esteem, mental health, spirituality, and social skills.

Second, being genuinely interested in children's activities allows parents to monitor behavior, which is crucial in keeping teens out of trouble.  When misbehavior does occur, parents who have involved their children in setting family rules and consequences can expect less flack from their children as they calmly enforce the rules.  Parents who, together with their children, set firm boundaries and high expectations may find that their children's abilities to live up to those expectations grow. 

Third, parents who encourage independent thought and expression in their children may find that they are raising children who have a healthy sense of self and an enhanced ability to resist peer pressure. 

Parents who give their teenagers their love, time, boundaries, and encouragement to think for themselves may find that they actually enjoy their children's adventure through adolescence. 

As they watch their sons and daughters grow in independence, make decisions, and develop into young adults, they may find that the child they have reared is, like the breathtaking view of the newborn they held for the first time, even better than they could have imagined.

Check out the subpages on the navigation bar for ideas on how to connect with and monitor your teenager while promoting psychological autonomy .