If you thought parenting toddlers was a challenge, wait until they are teens. No matter how patient and calm a parent you strive to be, teens are just a challenge to your parenting skills. Start the new year off with a fresh set of teen parenting tools and see if you can tame the teen beast.
Deborah Gilboa, M.D. — also known as Dr. G — is a board certified family physician, parenting expert, writer and mother of four who loves to help parents increase their knowledge and follow the parenting instincts they already have. We asked Dr. G to share some New Year's resolutions for parents of teens.
"Ask your teen to make a list of five different activities that they would like to learn more about or do once a week or month with you," says Dr. G. "Then choose one of those hobbies and put it on your schedules. Make this time an argument-free zone, treated like you would a friends-night-out, a safe zone for both of you to focus on a common task and enjoy each other." In order to keep the momentum going, make the rule that you can each only cancel once in the next three months.
It's hard to watch your teen make a mistake — but important for their growth. "We all want to protect our children, but none of us can protect adults from their own actions," Dr. G shares. "As our kids are in this transition time, let them make some errors in judgment and then let them live with the consequences. This cycle — making a mistake, suffering consequences and then facing another decision — is crucial to building resilient adults and builds confidence too." Stepping back and watching them figure things out may be difficult, but it's necessary.
Planning your family fun time for the new year? Resolve to let your teen take charge, and watch what happens. "Decide on a budget and a timeframe and then ask your teen to plan a trip for the two of you or for your family. When they ask why, explain that you’d just like to have fun together," says Dr. G. "Give them a budget and a list of what it covers — lodging, food, transportation, entertainment. Then do whatever they suggest. They may be surprised at your compliance, and you’ll be amazed at the relationship building."
Are you feeling a bit squeamish about that new friend with the glow-in-the-dark hair? Watch what you say to your daughter about her friend. Your teen is smart enough to know how you probably feel about her edgy pals, but unless they are truly a danger to her don't engage in a debate. A better approach would be to ask more positive questions about the friendship — what they have in common, like art or music — or invite the friend over for dinner. Your teen will be surprised and also be making her own decisions about relationships.
Dr. G has a great way for parents of teens to be present in their lives, but not intrusive. "Set yourself a reminder in your phone — daily if you’re ambitious, or weekly or whenever — and text your teen something you admire about them. Focus on what they do (or try to do) and not on traits over which they have no control." While you may not always get a response, this positive praise will surprise them, and is bound to make you feel good too. So much of what teens hear is negative, why not celebrate the positive?
Wouldn't you love to stop arguing with your kids about anything online? "Computers, cell phones, social networking — all of this is about freedom for the teen and control for the parents," says Dr. G. "Make a contract that lists the boundaries of which technologies your teen may use, during what hours and to what purposes. Make a corresponding list of the privileges your teen can keep if they follow these rules and which privileges they can earn by keeping to the rules with few or no reminders." Setting ground rules takes away the nagging and complaining from both parents and teens. "Then," adds Dr. G, "and here is the hard part — do not hassle your child for anything they use technology for within those boundaries!"
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