by Lexy Ulrich, LCPC
As hard as it is to believe, the back to school signs are out and the first class bell is ready to ring. The busy season of tests and homework, extracurricular activities, and peer engagement is back and ready to begin. As your teen is gearing up for the new academic year, so are you.
It’s not just the academics, sporting events, clubs, and events you should be preparing for: It’s also about the emotional changes and growth that are going to happen this year. As they are developing their minds, how can you also help them emotionally?
The teen years are a time for exploration and identity formation. Teens are asking themselves who they are and where they fit in. For some, the answers to these questions come with ease and excitement: They form a sense of self, find a group they feel safe in, and come out with some goals and dreams as to how they want to spend their life.
Sounds great, right? You may be thinking, Not my kid! Well, you have a lot of company, because for most teens, it’s a lot stormier than that. There’s usually a raging storm of hormones and emotions, including anger, fear, confusion, and sadness. And as a parent, you may feel just as lost and confused as they are. You want to help, but how can you? What can you do throughout this year to help your teen feel safe with you and nurture them as they begin to formulate their core identity?
Here are just a few tips for helping your teen:
Support them, even if you don’t always understand
Many people confuse the terms “support” and “agree.” Just because you support someone, doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. Your teen may be trying a new activity, making new friends, or wearing different clothes. You may disagree with your teen about these choices and think they are just being ridiculous. But remember that they are trying to find who they are. This change doesn’t always mean that it is permanent or here to stay. Show them you support them, even if you don’t agree. Ask them about this new interest, person, or passion and get to the heart of why they want this included in their life.
As a parent, you probably do most of the talking. You lay out the ground rules. You establish goals and expectations. You’re telling them what to do and where to be. You set the parameters for their lives. However, teens need to be able to speak and think for themselves. Remember to listen to them. Give them a space to come to you and talk about what’s been good, what’s been hard, and all that falls in between.
It may feel easier to let your teen “just be” during these years and hope they come out on the other side as a normal functioning adult. I encourage you to do the opposite. Don’t distance yourself from them. Try to remain a part of their world and connected to them. Make some time for just you or help them with a project. Don’t be afraid to be a part of their world.
Help Them Disconnect
In a world that keeps you constantly connected to the people around you, it is hard to find time to disconnect. Teens constantly want to be in reach of their friends and classmates, even if that means they are just a text away. That part is natural. But it’s also helpful to give teens a space to be by themselves and separate from the pressures of those around them. Space can help teens remind themselves of who they are and who they want to be. Encourage that time for your teen.
Model Healthy Behavior
You’ve heard the saying, “Kids are sponges.” Well so are teens, and they are still watching you and learning by your example, which is enormously powerful. If you want to see a certain behavior from your teen, ask first if you see it in yourself. Model behaviors and communication styles that you want your teen to emulate. Even though teens focus heavily on their social relationships, they are still looking to you too, even if it is just out of the corner of their eye.
The point is to stay connected. Get to know them. Don’t be afraid to ask them tough questions. The goal is not for you to be the perfect parent, but rather a present parent.