By Cheryl Maguire
“You have been playing video games for two hours, can’t you find something else to do?” I asked my son.
He rolled his eyes, gave a half huff and half grunting sound as he turned off the TV and then moped by me.
Being a parent of a teen can be challenging due to their lack of communication with you and their testing of your rules.
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Co-Founder of Center for Parent and Teen Communication says, “We want parents to understand that this is a wonderful phase of development. There are going to be some puddles, but it is your unconditional love of your child that is their platform to help launch them into adulthood.”
Another expert Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a Northwestern University professor, clinical psychologist, and author of Loving Bravely says,
“The parent of a teen’s job is to shift from controlling to sideline coaching. So, a lot of the parent’s work is about loosening that control.”
Some ways you can have a healthy relationship with your teen is to:
Remember that You Were a Teen Once Too
Asking yourself open-ended questions that create empathy can help you to have a healthy relationship with your teen. For example, if a parent is struggling with their 15-year-old son, Dr. Solomon would ask, “What was going on for you at age 15?”
This allows you to remember how it feels to be a teenager and reminds you about some of the struggles they are going through.
Remember that Adolescence is About Gaining Independence
When your child is being stubborn it can feel as if it is an afront to your authority but, it may be their attempt at gaining independence which is a normal phase of teen development.
“Teens may be struggling with strong emotions, challenging social and academic situations, and exploring who they are apart from their parents,” says Dr. Carla Naumburg, clinical social worker and author of the book How To Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids.
Remember that Teens Rebel Against Us Because They Love Us
When your child rebels against your rules it might feel as if they don’t care about you or your expectations.
“Teens are pushing us away because they need to become more independent and that is hard as heck because of how much they love us,” says Dr. Ginsburg.
“I think teens feel safest experimenting with the people they know are not going to go anywhere,” says Dr. Ginsburg. He goes on to say, “It’s almost a compliment. You’ve got to reframe this. If our kids experimented this way in other places of their life it might not be safe for them. But with you it’s safe.”
Remember Your Child’s Good Characteristics
When you are feeling upset with how your teen is acting or treating you try to remind yourself about all their good characteristics.
Dr. Ginsburg says, “Even during those moments of tension say to yourself, ‘there is so much that is good about my child.’” He goes on to say, “By remembering the good characteristics this will allow you to go back to the place that you need to be which is strategic.
Taking a deep breath, creating a space, approaching this from a place of love instead of hostility or anger.”
Move to a “Yes” Space
Dr. Solomon explained that the moment a parent feels anger they need to pay attention because they have moved from a “yes” space to a “no” space.
A “yes” space is when you are on the same team as your teen and a “no” space is when you are in fight or flight mode, leading you to try to control the situation.
“If a kid is doing something that they know is going to get under their parent’s skin, a parent should think, ‘My kid loves me, I love my kid, we are happier when we are connected,’” says Dr. Solomon.
After a parent recognizes they feel angry, it’s important to pause before reacting. If necessary, envision a stop sign in front of you or walk away. This step is the most difficult one because the moment can feel like it demands a response right now.
How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Your Teen
When you experience conflict with your teen, like any relationship, try to resolve it together by discussing it. Enlist the idea that “we” have the same goal. “Teens are more inclined to work with us when they also feel like we are working with them,” says Dr. Naumburg.
Dr. Solomon stressed the importance of not telling your teen that they are doing something wrong. She said, “When our language has a hint of ‘you are doing it the wrong way’ that is an invitation to a power struggle.” She goes on to say,
“Parents need to have compassion and help their kid make healthy choices from a place of love and healthy boundaries verses fear and control.”
Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Parents Magazine, Upworthy, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings, Good Life Family and Your Teen Magazine.
Alexandra H. Solomon, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, The Family Institute at Northwestern University
Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University
847-733-4300 ext. 797
Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, MSEd
Co-Founder and Director of Programs, including parentandteen.com, at the CPTC, and a Professor of Pediatrics and adolescent medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Carla Naumburg, PhD, LICSW
parent coach, writer, and speaker.