No doubt about it, the tumultuous teens are a period where growing pains can lead to acting out and result in parents and their offspring losing their connection. While teenage problems can be challenging, developing resilience in youth can protect them from going astray.
In my book Love Her As She Is: Lessons from a Daughter Stolen by Addictions, I describe what it is like to live with a teenager acting out in an extreme manner. I also often heard hair-raising stories when I worked for the Parent Support Association helping parents of acting out teens. Take it from someone who has been there, teaching teens to be stress hardy can help ease the growing pains.
Today’s parents seem to be a doing a good job. According to a recent report called The Emerging Millennials from Statistics Canada, teens are happier and healthier than ever before. In 2009, 96 per cent of Canadians aged 12 to 19 reported they were highly satisfied with life. The author of the report, Reginald Bibby from the University of Lethbridge, discovered three key factors that have improved the lives of millennial teens:
- First, there’s what he calls “the boomer legacy.” Baby boomer and Generation X parents have created a life for their children that places value on education, sharing of information, use of technology and a balance of personal and professional success.
- Second, young people are a high priority in North American society, where schools and youth-based institutions have never been better prepared or funded.
- Third, teens in Canada have been brought up with more freedom of choice than any previous generation. They have the Internet, iPods, video games, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, cellphones, and a wealth of other technological advances to keep them busy, connected to one another and intrigued with life.
In the meantime, there are still teens who struggle. The good news is that we know how to strengthen their resilience, and it is often based on a healthy relationship with at least one healthy and supportive adult. Hopefully, you are that healthy and supportive adult who is willing to improve the relationship!
A 2001 Harvard report entitled Raising Teens provides a summary of over 300 research and practice documents. Here is an inventory based on the research that provides guidance to help you assess and develop your skills to better relate to your teen. By making changes yourself, you can relieve stress in your family relationships.
Teen Relationship Inventory
Assess how well you are supporting your young person in developing into his or her best self.
- Copy and paste this inventory into a document. Printing it is optional
- For each point below give your attitude, words, and behaviors a score between 1 and 5. 1 = Poor to 5 = Good Enough Parent
- Follow the instructions at the bottom for making improvements in your connection.
I realize that teens are going through great physical, intellectual, and psychological changes.
I understand that teens are naturally clumsy because their bodies are growing inconsistently—hands and feet may be disproportionately large.
I accept that teens have intense sexual energy, insecurities, and body pre-occupation.
Young Women: I realize that early maturation can be a disadvantage in the early teen years while late development may be an embarrassment to older teens. Teen girls worry about breasts, hair and facial features.
Young Men: I realize that early physical strength and development gives peer status. Teen boys worry about muscle mass and the size of their penis.
I do not make an issue of eating, weight or physical size or shape.
I model good eating and exercise habits.
I do not take my teen’s mood swings personally.
I understand that teens typically see themselves as invincible and participate in some high-risk behaviors.
- I communicate love and appreciation daily.
- I use humor where appropriate.
- I avoid lecturing, advice giving, name-calling, sarcasm, judging, put downs, yelling, advising, moralizing, blaming, and pleading.
- I speak respectfully in “I” statements sharing my thoughts, feelings, and expectations (around treatment of siblings, teachers, peers, property and myself)
- I set limits (clearly saying what I will and will not do) on which I follow through.
- I ask for my teen’s opinions and thoughts on matters from movies to politics.
- I share an appropriate amount of private information with my teen.
- I do not pry with multiple questions about my teen’s life.
- I listen attentively.
- I seek to understand my teen’s point of view and feelings before asking to be heard.
- I use open-ended questions to support effective problem-solving.
- I am comfortable agreeing to disagree with my teen.
- Though I choose my battles wisely, I am willing to say, “No, you do not have my permission.”
Self Esteem and Emotions
- I accept that teens’ physical, intellectual, and psychological changes affect emotions.
- I openly listen to the expression of all feelings.
- I accept that anger outbursts may be part of this challenging time of transition.
- I help my teen understand the challenges of intense feelings that arise.
- I avoid taking personally my teens’ criticism of my actions and choices.
- I know my teen’s favorite songs, books, TV shows, movies, hobbies, and people.
- I know my teen’s closest friends.
- I know what my teen considers her biggest weaknesses and strengths.
- I know what concerns my teen.
- I actively support my teen’s interests.
- I listen to my teen’s feelings of jealousy, frustrations and disappoints about siblings without taking sides.
- I put limits on sibling aggressiveness.
- We have regular discussions (family meetings or some other forum) to deal with grievances, solve problems and plan meaningful activities.
- Chores have an element of choice.
- Rules are few, clear and evaluated regularly.
- I acknowledge that teens need more alone time and privacy.
- I accept that teens distance themselves from parents, spend less time with them and more with their peers.
- I create a connection with my teen’s friends’ parents and check periodically on “gang” activities.
- I do not take personally my teen’s embarrassment of me in particular situations.
- We have meaningful family rituals and celebrations while not necessarily expecting my teen to participate.
- My teen is involved in deciding appropriate behavior guidelines.
- I keep my end of agreements by calmly following through.
- I expect my teen to be accountable for keeping or breaking her agreements.
- I do not rescue or bail out. I consider mistakes learning opportunities.
- I make it safe for my teen to give me honest information.
- Expectations of my teen are age and ability appropriate.
- I have clear limits around movies, music, video games, and TV watching.
- I have clear limits around the use of profanity.
- Because of the culture we live in, I do not make a big deal out of the occasional use of profanity.
Responsibility and Independence
- I accept that my teen will make mistakes.
- I support my teen in learning from mistakes.
- I avoid conflict over little annoyances. I invite my teen to problem solve.
- My teen has some money available to learn the responsibilities around spending.
- I compromise around a messy room, arrange for a periodic cleanup and know that it is not a big deal in the big picture.
- I avoid doing for my teen what my teen can do for herself.
- I award and compliment increased independent thinking, behavior and self-initiative.
- Because we have strong family values and connection, I feel comfortable having my teen choose his or her owns friends.
- I welcome my teen’s friends into our home.
- I expect teens to spend more time on the phone at this stage and am willing to make a workable arrangement.
- I have accepted that my teen may dress in ways that challenge my taste.
Sex, Drugs and other Transitional Issues
- I understand that many teens today are sexually active.
- I am ready to make my opinion of pre-marital sex clear and explain why.
- I am comfortable and ready to talk about healthy relationships, intercourse, reproduction, ejaculation, masturbation, menstruation, body parts such as penis and vagina, and sexually transmitted diseases.
- I am ready to talk about drinking, smoking, and drugs with accurate information.
- I am prepared to seek community support should sexual activity, drug use or other risk-taking behaviors go beyond typical teen experimentation.
How to use the above scores:
- A Scores 4 and 5: For each item that scored a 4 or 5, congratulate yourself and keep up your awareness, support and guidance.
- A score of 3: For each item that scored a 3, consider how you might increase your knowledge or frequency of parental connection.
- AScores of 1 and 2:
- Circle each item that scored 1 or 2.
- Beside each circled item write what you will do to improve this score. To change your belief and/or habit, you might read a parent education book, take a class or reach out to community support groups.
- Celebrate that you are committed to improving your performance as a teen’s parent.
NOTE: Consider inviting your teen to also score the above items. Then engage in a discussion about the items you agree, disagree on and would like to modify.
What are your experiences with teenage problems? How have you helped ease growing pains and create a solid parent-teen connection?