There's a lot you can't do as the parent of an adolescent. You can't force her to be well behaved or make good choices. A lot of parenting an adolescent involves a kind of Zen practice—breathe deeply, trust that you've taught her well, and practice letting go.
Lateral Job Shift!
You have influence but no control over your children. This is even more true for adolescents. Michael Riera, author of Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers, says that during your child's early life, you are the manager. As the parent of an adolescent, it's time to shift your role, from manager to consultant. As a consultant, your job is a lot more hands off. Back off on the “shoulds” and the “shouldn'ts” (before you step over a cliff).
If you try to “manage” your adolescent, she'll go out of her way to defy you in order to make her own decisions. If you say, “Tonia is too wild, you shouldn't hang out with her,” you'll be lucky if you ever see your child alone again. If you say, “I saw you smoking and I'm very upset, you should quit,” be prepared to find cigarette butts from now until a very long “then” from now. As a consultant (rather than a manager), your job involves more trust and “back up” and less direct decision-making. Here are a few tips for “hiring on” as parental consultant:
- As a consultant, you are still deeply involved, though your job is more passive. Make yourself available, continue special time and other family involvement, and let your child come to you.
- Be a sideline cheerleader and ally. “Go team, go!”
- Remember to continue to provide the love, limits, structure, consequences, and all that other good positive parenting “stuff.”
- Don't feel abandoned by your adolescents. You may not know they are listening, but they are.
It's a Good Idea!
Got a message with a moral to transmit? Do it indirectly. Tell a story about somebody you both know, or use a media example. Keeping it one step slightly removed will make it easier for your child to hear the message.
It's a Good Idea!
Adolescence is a time when kids develop their own sense of morals and ethics. For some, this is a time of intense political or religious activity. And woe to the hypocrite! Adolescents have little to no tolerance for hypocritical behavior, especially parents.
The sullen adolescent is a common beast. So is the busy one, out the door at dawn, back to fall into bed late at night. The time of just hanging out as a family and letting conversations develop naturally are gone. At the same time, communication is more important than ever. Here are a few ideas for maintaining (or gaining) communication flow:
- Listen, and know that you don't and won't have the answers to some of the things that are bugging your adolescent. This is a time of formulating new ideas and ideals, and your child may be paying more attention to the world than he ever has. Nobody has all the answers to the world's ills and injustices, but it's important to think about them, and to help your child develop critical thinking skills by talking and expressing opinions and feelings.
- Your moody, moody adolescent is “processing.” Stand back! Don't pry! Don't assume that, just because the timing is good for you, it's good for her. If you want to talk (or have her talk), make an appointment.
- Focus on treating your child with compassion, trying to understand the situation, and allowing (and encouraging) your child to use her resourcefulness to deal with difficult situations. Just yelling or condemning her behavior will just cut you off from her.
- Talking about sex, drugs, and other “touchy” issues is really hard.
- Expect a certain level of lying, even if it's just lies by omission. Your child is building her private world, and protecting her friends. A lot of lying, or elaborate lies, signify either a relationship where your child doesn't feel safe in telling the truth, or a very high level of insecurity. Look at your expectations—are you expecting too much? Are your limits too tight? What are you modeling?