No stage of parenting is easy. Every age has it’s challenges, not the least of which are the teen years. Unlike the sleepless nights of infancy and the tantrums of toddlerhood, you no longer have a cute, smiling, chubby cheeked face to look upon in between outbursts. Instead, your sweet, snuggly child has been replaced with a surly faced, eye rolling teen who rarely comes out of their room. And, when they do, they seldom look up from their phone or speak more than two sentences to you at a time. 

They’re almost impossible to please, and even harder to communicate with. They seem to be texting everyone but you, and you may find yourself feeling like you’re failing miserably at parenting them. Rest assured, you’re not alone. Millions of other parents are facing the same challenges every day. The fact is, parents of teens everywhere feel like they struggle to know what their teen wants, and even who they are. And this is due in large part to the reality that teenagers themselves are unsure about who they are, or what they want. 

The teen years are a period of huge uncertainty and unprecedented growth. Not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally. It’s a time of confusion, both for the teens themselves and the parents who are trying their hardest to understand their needs, and how to meet them. It’s a time of emotional ups and downs, not unlike the tantrums you faced when they were toddlers. Only now, it looks more like slamming doors, the silent treatment, and more attitude than you thought your child capable of. It may feel like their only goal is to drive you completely crazy. But in reality, the main goal of your teen is to be understood. 

So what can you do to make the entire process more peaceful, and maintain your sanity in the process? Believe it or not, your teen doesn’t want to turn your home into a war zone. What they want is their independence, and to be respected as the young adults that they’re becoming. As teenagers grow and mature, they begin testing the boundaries that were set for them as children. They begin questioning they “because I said so” rules of their childhood, and start to set their own moral compass. While the headbutting, questioning, and outright rebellion can be infuriating, it’s also important to realize that this is a normal and healthy part of growing up. It’s absolutely necessary for children to develop their own sense of right and wrong, and to discover what boundaries they want to set for themselves. 

Open the Door for Conversation

The best way to get through this is to give them space to figure out their beliefs and boundaries. Have regular conversations with them about why you’ve set the rules you have, but leave room for questions and explanations. “Because I said so,” will not work with your teenager like it might have with your younger children. Teens crave knowledge and explanation, and as frustrating as it may be, we owe it to them to give them both. You don’t have to overload them with information. Just be willing to answer their questions, and be honest about why your expectations are what they are. 

Pick Your Battles

It’s easy to feel like every little thing is a fight with your teen. This is usually because—as a teen begins fighting for his or her independence—parents begin fighting for control. It’s not easy to admit that our children are growing up, and as they spread their wings, it’s sometimes our instinct to put a lock on the cage. This will only end in frustration and tears for everyone involved. Instead, decide ahead of time which fights really matter to you—and to them. Instead of immediately saying no to the hairstyle or piercing they’re asking for, talk to them about why they want it. Try not to make a big deal out of non-permanent changes. Talk to your teen about which choices will result in the most negative consequences (alcohol, drug use, relationship boundaries, etc), and be clear about what those consequences will be before it’s an issue. Don’t make threats; simply explain which behaviors will not be tolerated and what the consequences will be. Allow them to ask questions to help them understand why you feel this way about each issue. This helps give everyone realistic expectations.

Acknowledge and Accept

Probably the best piece of advice I can give to help you maintain good mental health is to acknowledge that your teen is going to make choices that you don’t agree with, and to accept that you can’t do much about some of it. Everyone learns from their experiences—both positive and negative—and teens are no exception. While it can be upsetting and even painful to watch our children make choices that we don’t agree with, we have to be willing to let them fall and fail if they’re going to grow into adults capable of making healthy choices. The teen years are an important developmental stage, and by refusing to let them make their own choices, you hinder their ability to do so into adulthood. Instead of trying to control their decisions, or trying to stop them from making the wrong one, try focusing instead on creating a safe place for them to mess up. While a teenager will grow to resent and rebel against a controlling parent who forbids them to make their own choices, they will learn trust and respect from a parent who instead allows them a place to heal and recover from their mistakes.

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