Do you relate with any of these statements?

“I don’t know my daughter anymore. She’s turned into an emotional wreck overnight. I think she is bipolar. We used to have the best relationship; what went wrong? He wears his pants down to his knees and has a Mohawk. What do I do?”

First, give yourself a pat on the back right now and tell yourself “I am a good parent; I will do what it takes to help my child succeed; and, I love my child very much!” There is no doubt about it—these years can be painfully difficult. In spite of this, please know that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel.

Adolescence: It’s important to recognize the unique set of experiences occurring in this challenging stage of life

In navigating through adolescence, teens experience difficulties related to identity, school, relationships, and authority as they begin to define themselves as adults. Adolescence marks the beginning of significant emotional, social, biological, and intellectual changes. With all these changes taking place, it is normal for teenagers to try on different roles or masks to see what fits them. These different roles can include experimentation with morals and values, clothing styles, social groups, music preferences, religion, substances, and sexuality. For parents, this can be an exhausting time as your child’s mood is constantly changing and the arguments, silences, and boundary testing sets in, leaving you feeling frustrated and stuck. Although adolescence can be a trying time, it can also be a time filled with newness and excitement as you see your child journey from childhood to adulthood. Here are some practice steps you can begin to take today to help you and your adolescent have a better relationship.

Inform your teen—and stay informed yourself

Do not be afraid to address topics with your teen such as values, peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, and sexuality. Create an “open door” policy with your child where they can come to you with any questions. Start the conversation about sexuality before you child goes through puberty. Keep it to the basics with menstruation, wet dreams, and sexual intercourse. A good time to bring up these questions is after their annual physical. You may want to ask other questions such as:

  • Are you noticing any changes in your body?
  • Are you having any strange feelings?
  • Are you sad sometimes and don’t know why?

Additionally, stay informed on what your teenager’s interests and hobbies are, ask them questions about their day, and have a respect for their individual personality.

Respect kids’ privacy

Some parents, understandably so, have a difficult time with this one. They feel entitled to know everything their teenager is doing. To help your teenager become a young adult and learn to take responsibility for their own actions, you’ll need to grant them some privacy. In other words, their phone calls and room should be off limits to snooping. Now, please note if you suspect something serious is going on with your child like substance abuse or other illegal activity, there are exceptions to this rule. By all means, ask your teenager questions, but if they do not feel like sharing that is their choice.

Respect your child’s opinions and validate their feelings

As teens mature, they start to think abstractly and rationally. They’re forming their moral code and becoming independent. Parents of teens may find that kids who previously had been willing to conform to please them will suddenly begin asserting themselves. This can cause frustration on behalf of the parents. Questions to ponder with this are, do I allow and encourage my children to have their own opinions, despite differences from my own opinion? Do I listen intently to my child’s feelings, and encourage them to express their feelings? Am I a controlling parent?

It is imperative to ask for your child’s opinion

With all the emotional changes taking place with adolescence sometimes your child may feel depressed, lonely, or upset. You do not need to fix their feelings or tell them that she should not be feeling that way; give them the permission to feel what their feeling.

Pick your battles wisely

If your teen want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, wear different makeup, pierce their navel, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you say no. Teenagers want to shock their parents and it’s a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; leave the objections to things that really matter, like substance abuse, character values, and sexuality. Also, for every one thing that your adolescent does that frustrates you, point out three things that there doing that are positive. Even though they may not show it, teenagers need and want the approval of their parents.

Maintain appropriate expectations and consistent rules

Teens will often act frustrated with the expectations their parents put on them. However, they usually understand that their parents care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and adherence to the rules of the house. If parents have appropriate expectations, teens will likely try to meet them.

Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page in terms of house rules

If you are not, sit down and have a meeting to come up with a game plan. A unified front in parenting is crucial in the teenage years. Teenagers can be manipulative. Consistency with discipline is vital. If you tell your teen they’re grounded and forget about it the next day you are teaching them to not take you seriously. You need to follow through with consequences. Consequences are not yelling or getting angry with your teen; consequences are simply taking something away for a period of time. Do not engage in verbal bickering after the consequence is given; keep your words brief and to the point. Reward your teen for being trustworthy. Does your child keep to a 10 p.m. curfew? Move it to 10:30 p.m. Does a teen always have to go along on family outings? Decide what your expectations are and stick to them. Don’t be insulted when your growing child doesn’t always want to spend time with you. You probably felt the same way about your parents back when you were their age.

Know the warning signs for trouble

A certain amount of change may be normal during the teen years, but sudden changes in mood or personality may signify a serious problem that warrants professional counseling. Keep your eyes open for these warning signs and do not dismiss them when you see them.

  • Sudden change in eating patterns
  • Depression spells for no apparent reason or isolation from peers and family
  • Legal issues
  • Sudden change in grades
  • Joking or talking about suicide
  • Regular disobedience at home and with teachers
  • Significant loss of friends or a sudden change of friends over a period of time
  • Suspicion of substance abuse

Keep in mind your relationship with your adolescent is the most important factor in helping him or her through a difficult time, so keep the communication lines open. Ask for help from a professional counselor when you feel stuck. Asking for help is a sign of strength rather than weakness. Remember, as I said in the beginning give yourself a pad on the back right now and say.

“I am a good parent, I will do what it takes to help my child succeed, and I love my child very much!”

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Kelly Johnson is the founding therapist with the Colorado Center for Healing and Change in Aurora, CO. Kelly sees people for a wide variety of issues, but has a special passion for empowering people with a strong sense of self esteem and identity which results in healthier relationships and families.