Enjoying Your Teenager
by Muriel Jarvis
Being the parent of a teen has its challenges. May I suggest the following New Year’s Resolution: “I will find ways to enjoy my teen this year!” Teenagers live in a whirlwind of conflict and change. Physically, emotionally and socially they are experiencing new feelings, facing new challenges and trying to figure out exactly where they fit into the world around them. They want to be independent, but they still need a parent to pay the bills, lend the car and provide the basics, like food, shelter and designer jeans.
If you want to make the most of being the parent of a teen, Family Service Canada consultant Jennifer McCarthy suggests that parents pay attention to a few basic rules. “To enjoy your teens,” says Jennifer, “you need to first of all make time for them. Believe it or not, your teens need to know that you support and accept them. One of the easiest ways to do this is to establish a family night, maybe once a week, where everyone eats together and talks about their day. Or you could even have a regular date night where you and your teen go out to a movie, or maybe volunteer together for a cause that’s important to both of you. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you are enjoying your time together.”
The second rule that Jennifer has for enjoying your teen, is to listen to them. “The most important thing any parent can do is to listen. Teens need to feel that their opinions matter, and that they can depend on their parents for help. By taking the time to listen to your teen, you will actually have more influence in their lives. You will know what is going on at school, with friends and what challenges they may be facing. By listening and not judging, you are showing your teen that you’re interested in them as an individual, and that you respect their ideas. Besides learning all about your teenager, you may find that they will actually begin listening to you!”
“Don’t hide from the tough stuff is another rule for enjoying your teen,” says Jennifer, “Drugs, sex, drinking, violence; kids today are dealing with pressures and issues that you may be uncomfortable talking about. But, you can’t let a little embarrassment get in the way of protecting your teen. Teenagers need to know the facts. They also need to know what your family’s values and beliefs are, and what type of behaviour is expected.” Jennifer suggests that when your teen asks the tough questions about sex and drugs, the best policy is to be honest and understanding. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them so, and then go find it. “Don’t judge or condemn your teen for being curious or having sexual thoughts or feelings,” says Jennifer. “Whether you like it or not, they are becoming adults, and need to have good information available so they can make good choices in the future.”
And finally, teens need rules and structure. Jennifer says that the same rules you had when they were 10 no longer apply, so it is important to renegotiate responsibilities and privileges as they get older. By changing rules and chores to match their growing maturity, you are sending your teen a positive message about trust and respect. “Remember to include your teen in these discussions, “ says Jennifer, “listen to their opinions and find ways to compromise so everyone is happy.”
About The Author
Muriel Jarvis is the past Executive Director of Family Plus/Life Solutions, a United Way agency in Saint John, with over 20 professional counsellors delivering counselling, education and wellness services.