Common Mistakes Parents of Teens Make
Parents want to do the best for their children, but sometimes life gets in the way. Either we don’t know enough, or we feel exhausted and overwhelmed, or we forget our ultimate goal. The key is to always remember that a parent’s job is to raise a teen to become a responsible adult. So, that means that you can’t always rescue your child from their every mistake, you can’t tell them yes when you should say no, you can’t ignore behaviors that are red flags something is wrong, and you can’t simply hope for the best. Will you make mistakes? Yes. But you can improve your parenting style, and by doing that, improve your child’s overall behavior and likelihood for future success.
Mistake #1: Yelling. It is understandable that parents will lose their tempers and raise their voices. Anyone living with a teen knows how incredibly frustrating it can be. However, parents who yell all of the time or who use screaming as their primary discipline are not effective. Setting clear rules, limits, and consequences for breaking those limits are essential to your sanity and your teen’s success. Parents should have a conversation with their teen, during a calm period, about everything from homework, smoking, drinking, curfews, dating, and household chores. That way, when the rules are broken, instead of becoming angry and yelling, you simply remind your teen of the consequence. This helps keep the peace in the house and saves the parent’s energy by not having to resist an adolescent’s anger, defiance, or whining, especially at the end of a long day. Teens need this structure, and it absolutely helps prepare them for the adult world when they must fulfill the demands of their boss and pay their bills on time.
Mistake #2: Disengaging. Teens can cut a parent to the core with their careless rejection. It might seem easier to withdraw than to submit to the eye-rolling and snide remarks coming from the child you once knew, but it’s the worst thing you can do. Teens must know that you care, you support them, and, if something goes radically wrong, he or she can count on you. Besides, no amount of discipline will work, if you haven’t fostered a good relationship. So, how does a parent stay engaged with their teen? Two ways: (1) practice active listening (which you can read more about in our previous blog “How Parents Can Stay Involved with their Teen or Tween”), and (2) get to know your teen’s interests and join them there. For example, if your teen loves baseball, then buy tickets to the local game, watch a game together on TV, learn about the players so that you can have a thoughtful conversation with him or her, join a league together, or find an opportunity for your teen to play and attend his or her games. When you notice your teen’s interests, it builds the teen’s confidence and strengthens their relationship with you.
Mistake #3: Trying to be your teen’s friend. Teens have peers that make good friends; they don’t need us to fulfill that part of their lives. They need us to take the responsibility of parenting them. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be friendly to your teen (as mentioned in the above paragraph, you should be engaged with your child), but you do need to be the one in charge. Friends compromise with each other; parents do that, but they also establish rules and enforce consequences. Friends come and go; parents are forever. There is so much more to the relationship of a parent that being a friend is really a downgrade. You should not lament that you can’t be your child’s friend; you should celebrate that your relationship is more important.
Mistake #4: Forgetting what it’s like to be a teenager. Pop quiz! What’s more important – paying the mortgage or studying for a math test? What’s harder – waiting for a call from your husband or waiting for a text from your BFF? Parents have so much stress in their lives that they forget that their children have things to worry about, too. Although a teen’s stress doesn’t seem very important to a parent in comparison to the magnitude of their grown-up lives, parents must remember that a teen’s worries ARE important to them. Between the hormones, peer pressure, school requirements, and household chores, teens are stressed, and it’s important to acknowledge that.
Mistake #5: Rescuing. Children who are always rescued by their parents don’t know how to function in the “real world” when they are adults. Making decisions helps build confidence, so allow your teen to make their own choices. Give them some pros and cons and then let them own the decision and take responsibility for the result. Will they make mistakes? Yes! And that’s the point! The only way we learn is through making mistakes and suffering the consequences. Wouldn’t it be better to let your teen learn small lessons now, when the consequences are minor and they are at home with parents who can support and help them, rather than have to learn big lessons in the adult world, when they are on their own and the consequences are severe? Life is full of mistakes and they must learn how to handle them. Sometimes a parent may believe they are saving their child’s future – rescuing the teen from a bad grade or a poor choice – but instead they are sealing their teen’s fate as a failure. So, the most important thing to remember is: don’t take responsibility for issues or problems that belong to your teen and not to you. Do not solve their problems for them. You can help them brainstorm ideas for ways they can solve their own problem or ask open ended questions so that they come to their own conclusions, but you should not offer to “fix” this situation. A teen must suffer from the consequences of their choices in order to learn and not repeat their mistakes.
Mistake #6: Ignoring problems. Teenagers sure can give us a lot to worry about – depression, drugs, sex, gangs, school, and the quality of their friends. All of these issues can be overwhelming, and sometimes adults take the road of “putting their head in the sand” or ignoring the signs they see, because, to be honest, they just don’t know how to deal with it. They think, perhaps the teen is just going through a stage, or maybe they need to figure things out for themselves. But what is the cost of ignoring the problem? In many instances, ignoring a problem in the teen years leads to much bigger problems in the adult years. Parents must monitor what their teens are into so they can help guide them away from risk taking behaviors.
Mistake #7: Saying yes all the time. Setting limits takes on a whole new meaning when your child hits adolescence. When children are very young and do something unsafe, parents have no trouble saying no. Parents don’t care that their two-year-old cries because they didn’t let him put the fork in the electric socket. But adolescence isn’t as black and white, so saying no to a party that your teen wants to attend because you think it might not be safe feels more difficult and will undoubtedly cause conflict. The problem is, as research consistently shows, adolescents simply lack the ability to make smart decisions consistently. For example, peer relationships are so important to teenagers that those friendships can easily overwhelm a child’s need to be safe. Your teen is secretly counting on you to hold the line. When you allow your teen to do anything they want, they will begin to take control and you are no longer the parent. This means they no longer have their greatest chance of succeeding.
No parent is perfect, and we all make mistakes. Don’t feel bad if you have made these mistakes in the past. Simply be aware of these problems as a way of working towards improving your parenting style. You will reap the benefits in your child’s overall behavior and likelihood for future success.