Parents of Teens: Don’t Always Expect the Worse

When parents talk about their new baby, their audience will “ooh” and “aah” and smile. When parents talk about their soon-to-be adolescent, their audience will roll their eyes and groan. Teens get a bad rap.

The adolescent years are a time filled with rapid change, mood swings, and growing independence, but it does not have to be a time of war. So many people have talked about the difficulties of raising a teenager that many parents approach the adolescent years as an ordeal to survive. But this is still your child. She may not crawl into your lap anymore and he might not respond to the time-out corner, but the child you raised from babyhood to now is still there and still needs you.

There is a fine line between being aware of possible problems and actually assuming your child will engage in them. Smart parents are informed of the latest teen trends. They know to look for behavior changes to indicate problems. They have talked to their teens about the dangers of drug use, sex, crime, and other risky activities. They know where their teens are (physically and online) and pay attention to who their friends are. Unfortunately, being aware of all the bad things with which your teen can get involved can make parents anxious. It may seem like there are so many possibilities for bad behavior, but the key is to be aware without assuming your child will fall into these trends.

Expecting the worst of your teen sets you both up for several unhappy, unsatisfying years together. It creates a lot of tension between parent and teen. Additionally, parents can give the wrong message about what they’re looking for. They should be conveying that good behavior is doing well in school, helping out at home, following curfew, and having healthy relationships with friends. Instead, many parents are defining good behavior as not doing drugs, not having sex, or not hanging around with the wrong crowd. Sometimes parents can get caught up on small things for fear that it will lead to bigger things. Teens may make choices you don’t like – haircuts and clothing are prime examples – but that doesn’t mean that they are heading in a bad direction. Adolescence is a time of exploration, so some rebellion is appropriate. Parents should not jump to the conclusion that because their son dyed his hair green he is now also experimenting with drugs. With so many negative messages, the household loses its sense of peace. Ideally, teens should feel that parents are on their side, but if they’re constantly being given messages that sound as though the parent is expecting them to fail, they will not feel that trust.

Amazingly, raising teenagers with negative expectations can actually promote the behavior you fear most. According to a recent study conducted at Wake Forest University, teens whose parents expected them to get involved in risky behaviors reported higher levels of these behaviors one year later.

So while you are alert for problems, stay focused on the positive. You might want to learn about your teenagers’ interests and hobbies, even if you don’t understand them. This is an excellent way to reconnect with the child you love. Choosing to highlight the positives in your life and your child’s life can only make everyone in the household happier.

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