Updated: Nov 5, 2022
She won’t get off of her phone! He won’t go to bed! She doesn’t listen! Those are some of the most common complaints I hear in my therapy practice from parents of teenagers. In fact, I have yet to meet a parent who has made it through their child’s teenage years unscathed. I bet you can relate.
It may be comforting to know that there is an evolutionary reason for your teen’s colorful behaviors. Your teen is starting to individuate from you as he transitions from childhood to adulthood. She is also experiencing complex social, emotional, cognitive and physical development. Alas, during adolescence, the following behaviors can fall within the range of normal: moodiness, irritability, secrecy and impulsivity. However, there is good news! You can actually help your teen through this critical stage of life. Here are 5 tools that can help you support your teen through adolescence.
First, utilize active listening with your teen. Seek to understand her perspective, then paraphrase what you heard back to her in your own words to confirm that her idea has been understood correctly. Active listening demonstrates sincerity and empathy. Allowing your teen to feel heard is more effective (and easier) than fixing the problem. Second, make “I” statements, not “you” statements. For example, “I feel unloved when you use your cell phone at the dinner table” should replace “You are rude and disrespectful!” “I” statements take responsibility for the speaker's feelings without making accusations about the listener. Sharing feelings and thoughts honestly and openly can help you and your teen grow closer. "You” statements, on the other hand, shift blame to the listener, leading to defensiveness and emotional cutoffs. Third, appreciate your teen as she is, rather than comparing her to who you wanted to be or who you wanted her to be. Nurture your teen’s special talents and interests. Being the kind kid is just as valuable as being the quarterback. Next, set and enforce boundaries with consequences. Teens do not always make the best choices, but they do need rules and boundaries to develop into healthy adults. To be impactful, consequences must be important to your teen and delivered immediately to make a clear connection. Finally, and most importantly, model your own self care. Teens model what you do, not what you say. The greatest gift you can give your teen is them seeing you be self-compassionate, implementing your own healthy boundaries and addressing your own emotional needs.
Carly Cohen is Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who provides individual, couples and family therapy to teens and adults in Voorhees, NJ. Her expertise is in supporting those struggling with depression, anxiety, communication, self-esteem and relationships by mixing compassion and emotional safety with therapeutic models. www.counselingcentersj.com