Effectively Parenting Teens: Leading by Example

During the teen years, it is vital that parents understand their teen's behavior rather than merely react to it.
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Teenage girl studying with textbooks looking unhappy
Teenage girl studying with textbooks looking unhappy

The foundation of effective parenting is leading by example. When children observe how we treat them and others, they learn how to behave. A parent's interaction with their child literally impacts their child's brain development, and parenting styles can be passed down through generations. In our society, shaming is an accepted parenting tool for controlling kids. Many children hear shaming and humiliating messages all day long: comparisons with siblings or other kids, the mocking of their age and abilities or comments that just make them feel stupid or inferior. I would like to invite our society to relearn respect and civility, both of which start at home.

As parents, we are responsible for modeling self-respect and respect for others. When we treat children with respect, they learn to treat themselves and others respectfully. Our body language, facial expressions, the tone and volume of our voice, threatening violence, withholding affection, rejecting behavior, using demeaning words or physical punishment definitely impact a child's self-esteem and can teach them aggressive behavior. The foundation of any respectful argument involves avoiding the following: raising your voice, swearing, name-calling and pointing your finger in the other person's face.

Conscious parenting involves pausing before speaking or acting to evaluate whether our words or actions are necessary. (Will your words or actions truly help the situation?) Encouraging your child should never include a demeaning or threatening word, act, or deed, nor should it cause them to lose their dignity or self-respect. Instead, encouragement should provide a shift upward in their sense of self, guiding the child toward a path of hope, inspiration and possibility.

When children act out, disobey, behave rudely or display disturbing emotions, it's easy to dismiss them or their behavior as "bad" or "wrong"; however, as we go about redirecting and disciplining our children, it's helpful to see these behaviors as a child's best attempt to meet a need. It calls upon us to look at our relationship with our child, and find the source of their unmet need.

When a child becomes a teen and begins forming a separate identity, the parental role changes. Parents must make the transition from providing for all their child's needs to coaching their teen to manage their own frustrations and needs. Although it may be challenging to cope with the willfulness, clinging or demands typical of this period, parents need to deal with expressed aggression and dependence in a straightforward, honest way that affirms the dignity and power of both parent and child. The parent who resents and cannot tolerate their teen choosing to defy them by expressing their autonomy and wanting to do things independently will make that child feel as though the price of their own freedom is abandonment and loss of love.

Here are some thoughts why teens and parents have difficulty navigating the teen years, and suggestions for a more graceful passage:

1. Teens feel conditionally loved: "I'm OK only if I live up to your expectations."
2. Parents don't allow teens to learn from failure, an excellent motivator.
3. Teens don't learn time management skills simply through the creation of "daily routine" charts.
4. Parents gift their children too many things and then wonder why teens are not only unappreciative, they also want more.
5. Teens don't learn problem-solving skills when parents lecture them.
6. Parents don't always know how to calmly and simply say, "I love you, and the answer is no."
7. Refrain from thinking that in order to make teens do better, you first have to make them feel worse. Instead, be kind and firm while holding them accountable.
8. Parents too often tell their teen what to do rather than inviting them to brainstorm solutions that that will work for everyone.
9. Parents expect teens to "remember to do their chores" as though it were an indicator of responsibility. Yet not all responsible adults were responsible teens.
10. Parents are often more interested in short-term results than long-term results. For example: I'll force you to do your homework now even if it means you will not do your best because you are rebelling.
11. Parents nag, which invites resistance. Instead, allow teens to explore for themselves the relevance of what you want them to do.

During the teen years, it is vital that parents understand their teen's behavior rather than merely react to it. Being a "drill sergeant" or a "helicopter parent" gives teens the message that you don't trust them to do things on their own and undermines their self-esteem, which prevents them from developing confidence in their own abilities. Successfully navigating this phase of life involves setting boundaries and enforcing consequences without becoming punitive, angry, or judgmental. Respectful parenting means being able to see the frustrations teens encounter when pushing against imposed boundaries as opportunities for them to exercise self-control, self-respect and respect for others.

It has be said that: "While not all teachers are parents, all parents are teachers." Good character traits like empathy and respect are teachable skills that must be learned at home and at school. When we teach children to be good people we help create a world that is safer, kinder and more equitable.

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