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Three Ways to Change Your Parenting in the Teenage Years

Though teenagers can be hard to parent, the good news is that parenting teenagers is in many ways a hell of a lot easier than raising little kids. For this to be the case, however, our parenting needs to shift. Here are the three big shifts that parents of teenagers need to make to survive their kids’ adolescence.

1. We step down as primary decision makers and step up our coaching

Once kids reach adolescence, they need to start managing their own lives, and they do tend to fire us as their managers. Parents who are too controlling—those who won’t step down from their manager roles—breed rebellion.

The answer, according to neuropsychologist William Stixrud and long-time educator Ned Johnson, authors of The Self-Driven Child, is to hand the decision-making reins over to our teens. You read that right: By adolescence, we parents need to (take a deep breath and) let them make their own decisions about their lives.

Letting our kids become the primary decision makers does NOT mean that we become permissive, indulgent, or disengaged. It does mean that the quality—if not the quantity—of our support shifts. We give up our role as their chief of staff and become more like life coaches. We ask questions, and provide emotional support.

2. We influence them differently

It’d be great if we parents could just download information to our teens—say, about sex and drugs—and know that they were going to use that information to make good decisions.

In the teenage brain, the part of themselves that is an autonomous young adult is high status. The part of them that is still a kid who needs our support is low status.

When we give our adolescents a lot of information, especially when it is information that they don’t really want or that they think they already have, it can feel infantilizing to them.

So, when it’s time to bring up the topic you want to influence your teen about, speak as you would to someone with the highest possible social status—someone you really, really respect. Remember, if your teen feels disrespected, nagged, spoken down to, pressed upon, or infantilized, all bets are off.

3. We have a lot of hard conversations

Talking with teenagers about their lives can be stressful. But teenagers today are dealing with some really hard stuff, and we parents need to create safe spaces for our teens to talk about the hard things.

This takes a lot of courage. The simplest way to increase our ability (and, frankly, willingness) to have uncomfortable conversations with our teens is to practice doing it in baby steps.

As hard as it might be for us to watch, our teenagers are going to make mistakes. When they do, our anxious over-involvement won’t help. What will help, though, is our calm presence.

Above all, we’ll do well to remember that their lives are their lives. It’s their journey, not ours. Our role is not to steer them through life like we would marionettes, but rather to help them feel seen, and to help them feel safe.

Excerpted from “Three Ways to Change Your Parenting in the Teenage Years”  by Christine Carter, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center. Read the full article online for more details.

Source: Greater Good Science Center | Three Ways to Change Your Parenting in the Teenage Years, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/three_ways_to_change_your_parenting_in_the_teenage_years | © 2021 The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley

Do you need someone to talk to? To schedule an evaluation or to get advice about your child’s challenges, call or email a CHC Care Coordinator at 650.688.3625 or careteam@chconline.org CHC teletherapy services are available now.

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