Parenting a teenager can be tough. They’re at the age when they are developing an identity separate from yours, and while they often aren’t self-sufficient yet, they are experimenting with self-sufficiency and testing your boundaries of authority as a result. It can often mean a breakdown in communication and more friction than either one of you wants. There’s one way to frame it, though, that will help you keep everything in perspective:
Your child is pushing you away (but that’s a good thing)
It’s important to keep the big picture in mind. You’re raising a child that one day will be a self-sufficient adult. Implicit in that statement is a progression from tending to your child’s every need as a baby to not needing to tend to them as an adult. Also implicit, though often ignored, is that while your child becomes an adult, he or she is going to form more and more beliefs of his or her own, and some of those beliefs will not coincide with your own.
It’s not gradual either, which can be a major reason for conflict. One day, they regard everything you say as gospel. Then right around the teenage years, they suddenly seem to oppose everything you stand for. As frustrating as it is, this phase is crucial to their development. They are beginning to explore what they believe, and one of the initial ways is to do the opposite of what you’ve taught them. Keeping that long-term picture in mind will help guide your communication during this transitional period in your child’s life.
Tone is everything
At this stage, as your child develops his or her identity, he or she will be hyper-sensitive to privacy. Your child can view even the most benign questions (“What did you do with your friends yesterday?”) as an assault on privacy. Keep your tone conversational, non-accusatory, and non-judgmental. You might not like the music your child listens to, for example, but as long as it isn’t destructive, do your best to accept it. And if you feel that your child is doing something destructive, create an open conversation, not an accusatory one. If that doesn’t work and there is indeed a problem, you may want to explore other treatment options.
Be clear with your expectations
One of the biggest issues with communication is misunderstanding each other’s expectations. Make sure you explicitly discuss what you expect. If you say, “Be home at a reasonable hour,” and your child comes home at midnight, you can’t really be justifiably mad. She might think that midnight is reasonable because that’s the same curfew her best friend has. If you meant 10 pm, then make that clear. Otherwise, you end up upset and worried and your child ends up confused and resentful.