How to support your teenagers

How to support your teenagers

As a parent, supporting our teenagers can be a challenging task. Teenagers are wonderful but they also come with a big dose of attitude, they know pretty much everything, they can be quite self centred and are often difficult to extract from their devices.

They are growing in independence and put on a great show of not needing our help and support but this is a time in life when they very much do need us. Supporting teenagers requires adapting and changing the way we parented them when they were younger.

We are now onto our fifth teenager and my key lessons to date have been:

  • Parenting teenagers gets easier the more you do it. Practice doesn’t make perfect but it really does help!
  • You will make mistakes but by taking time to reflect these mistakes can teach you a lot.
  • Apologising for the mistakes you make contributes positively to your relationship with your teen.
  • Listening more and talking less always works.
  • Don’t take what your teenagers do and say personally

I know the above is sound and solid advice but I also know that when it comes to supporting a teenager, practical tips on what you can do are often what parents are after. Below I have collated five ways I have found I can support our teenagers. There are of course many more ways I support them but these have been super important for us as a family.

All families are different, so what works for you might look different from what I have set out below. The exact way or steps you take to support your teenager isn’t the most important thing. What is important is that you are taking a mindful and conscious approach to how you are supporting your teenager. It can be tempting to leave a teenager to themselves if it keeps the peace but that is not what they need – they need and (even if they don’t show it right away) appreciate your support.

Set boundaries

When you first think about it, boundaries for teenagers can sound more limiting than supportive. Setting boundaries for teenagers actually gives them security, something that they crave as they go through a period of immense change. I think an analogy I was told almost twenty years ago for very young kids about boundaries applies to teenagers as well:

Setting boundaries for kids is like a river and its riverbanks. If the riverbanks are too narrow, the river bursts over the banks. If the riverbanks are too wide, the river keeps spreading until it hits the banks.

Kids need boundaries and as parents, we need to find the balance of giving them enough room to explore but within boundaries to keep them safe. I have had the riverbanks too narrow a few times, particularly over access to technology which ended up causing more issues than the use of technology did!

In the early teenage years, they will still need boundaries on when they go bed, device use, how often and how late they go out and how they get home and other areas of life and as a parent, we need to set them and enforce them to support them through this time of change. We also need to make sure we are adjusting boundaries as they grow and don’t simply set them and forget about them.

Have consistent expectations of them

To allow our teenagers to grow and become independent we have to have expectations of them. I am not talking about soul-crushing expectations that you bellow at them each morning before they go to school that they will become the dux of their school or make the national running team! I am talking about realistic expectations like:

  • they will do for themselves what they are capable of
  • they have respect for themselves, their family, friends and community
  • they contribute to the running of the house
  • they work to their ability at school

Consistency is key with teenagers and we need to support them by parenting them consistently. If they are allowed to do something (or get away with doing something) once they will assume they can do it all the time. If they get away with not doing their household tasks for the week, they will keep putting it off doing them until you chase them up to do it. And for the record, even after doing household tasks all their lives, I do still have to remind my kids at times to do their tasks.

Having positive expectations of teenagers also shows them that you believe in them and you believe in their skills and abilities. Teens can be super self critical and if they have a growth spurt can take time to adjust to the body they have found themselves in. Having expectations and belief in them can provide important support to teens at this time.

Scaffold areas where they need development

Expectations are important to support our teens but they need to be realistic. We need to make sure they do indeed have the skills and abilities to take on independent tasks and activities. If they don’t have them we need to invest time in helping them gain them so we are not still making their lunch and bed for them when they are in year 12! This is where scaffolding comes in.

In the field of education, the term scaffolding refers to a process in which teachers model or demonstrate how to solve a problem, and then step back, offering support as needed. Psychologist and instructional designer Jerome Bruner first used the term ‘scaffolding’ in this context back in the 1960s. The theory is that when students are given the support they need while learning something new, they stand a better chance of using that knowledge independently. {source}

As a parent, we ultimately want the best for our kids so when they come to us with a problem or a task they can’t do it can be a natural reaction to simply solve the problem or do the task. This helps in the short term but long term it doesn’t help either the parent or the teen. Giving them a structure to solve the problem not taking over the problem is key. For example, if there was an issue in a particular class at school you might guide them to talk to the teacher first, then write an email to the house head if this doesn’t resolve the issue. This allows them to still own the problem and be responsible for the solution but it gives them the guidance they needed to work out what steps to take.

Be available to talk at a regular time

Family life gets busy and if you have multiple kids it can be hard to find regular one on one time with each child. Staying connected with your teen so they can talk to you about things that are worrying them is a key way we can support them. Finding a regular pocket of time across the day when you are freely available to talk can help keep help with keeping communication open.

I am an early riser so tend to go to bed before everybody else in the house now! But one thing I do before I go to bed is take the time to go around to the teenagers and say good night to them one by one. I spend a few minutes talking and checking in on them if needed.

Some nights these chats are short and light-hearted but because they are a regular event, there have been many times the teens have chosen that time to talk to me about something that is worrying them. I then move closer to them and let them talk as long as they need. As I listen, I remind myself that I don’t have to solve the problem, I need to listen and then see what they want from me. Very often they just want to talk. They aren’t looking for suggested solutions, they just want to talk it out. Other times they are looking for help in solving the problem and I try to ask questions to help them come to a solution.

Show them you love them

Teens can be a little prickly and may not be wanting regular hugs and kisses from you but they do need reassurance that you love them. Finding ways you can regularly show them you love them is important especially if they are going through a super self-critical stage. It might be taking them a hot chocolate and placing a hand on their shoulder while they are studying after dinner. It might be giving them a hug when you sense their sadness even if they don’t really hug you back. It can be taking the time to listen to them, not offer advice but simply listen and empathise with what they are going through. Determine what works best for your teenager and do it regularly.

How are you supporting your teenager?

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