Parenting Your Teen

How to Maintain Communication

Even though teens need to separate from their parents during adolescence, they also need to know that the safety net of home and family is always there for them. If the lines of communication are shut down, they are not yet capable of surviving emotionally; they need support and input. Let’s take a look at a few guidelines for keeping the lines of communication open between parents and teenagers.

  1. Pay attention to the small things along with the significant things. If you are generally a good listener, your teen will be more likely to talk to you.
  2. When your teen talks to you, pay attention. Don’t be doing something else.
  3. If you can’t pay attention right at the moment, explain why. Ask if you can talk about the issue later, at a specific time.
  4. Ask questions for clarification, but watch out for coming across as critical. If your teen sees your questions as disapproval, stop asking them.
  5. Expect your teen to change his mind frequently. Avoid commenting on the inconsistencies.
  6. Express interest and encouragement in your teen’s activities.
  7. Accept your teen’s opinions, even if you don’t agree with them.
  8. Expect some rebellion and allow it to some extent, as long as it is “safe” rebellion. This allows teens to try out their independence.


Preventing High-Risk Behavior

All parents fear their teens becoming involved in high-risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking, and sexual activity. There are some very specific things you can do to minimize your teen’s need to act out. Here are some tips for preventing high-risk behavior:

  1. Be a part of your teen’s life. If possible, be present when she is likely to be home.
  2. Encourage your teen to talk to you openly at any time.
  3. When your teen tells you things, watch your reaction. Avoid reactions that will cause him to think twice about being candid with you in the future.
  4. Be specific about what kind of behavior you expect and what is unacceptable.
  5. Keep harmful substances out of the house. This includes cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol. When teens have access to these items, they are more likely to use them.
  6. Expect good things from your teen. Teens who know their parents expect the best have greater emotional well-being.
  7. Encourage your teen to become involved in school activities. Those who are involved at school engage in fewer high-risk behaviors.


Preventing Teen Substance Abuse

Now let’s talk about some of the risks that teens face. First, let’s look at drugs and alcohol. These are a few things you can do to help your teen stay away from drugs and alcohol.

  1. State your expectations clearly.
  2. Pay attention to where your teen is.
  3. When your teen leaves home, ask her to tell you where she is going. Ask for specifics.
  4. If your teen says he is going one place but actually goes somewhere else, consider restricting his freedom for awhile.
  5. Remember that your teen is innocent until proven guilty. Stay open to the possibility that there is a reasonable explanation for any story you might hear.
  6. Build relationships with other parents and agree on the rules. If none of the kids in the group have complete freedom, there will be less peer pressure and more safety.


Teen Depression

Teens are known for their mood swings. It is common for them to feel sad or gloomy. Many parents become concerned about a teen’s moods.

Depression is different from the blues because it lasts longer and is more intense. Clinical depression is an illness that can lead to very serious problems, with lifelong implications. Some of the warning signs that your teen may have something more serious than the blues are when he or she:

  1. Shows less interest in her appearance.
  2. Seems to feel hopeless.
  3. Seems to hate himself.
  4. Seems indifferent about most things.
  5. Seems numb.
  6. Lacks energy.
  7. Talks or thinks about death and dying.
  8. Changes his sleeping or eating habits.
  9. Loses interest in her friends or hobbies.
  10. Stops caring about her pets or cherished possessions.
  11. Has a sudden change in his grades at school.
  12. Complains of extraordinary stress.
  13. Withdraws from people.

If you think your teen’s mood may be depression, here are some things you can do about it:

  1. Talk to your teen about how he is feeling. Help him get it off his chest. Encourage him to think of solutions to what is bothering him.
  2. Encourage your teen to participate in some kind of physical activity.
  3. Check in with her more often than usual.
  4. If these steps don’t help and the problem seems serious, call a school counselor, teacher, or doctor. Ask for a referral to a qualified, licensed professional who specializes in working with adolescents who have emotional problems.


Eating Disorders

Eating disorders affect more girls than boys during adolescence. They are emotional disorders that require the intervention of a health professional before they become life-threatening. If you think your teen suffers from either anorexia or bulimia, do not hesitate to seek the advice of your physician. Early treatment greatly enhances the chances of recovery.

These are the warning signs for anorexia – when your daughter (or son):

  1. Has lost 25% of normal body weight without being on a diet.
  2. Has a distorted body image.
  3. Diets constantly even though she is thin.
  4. Fears gaining weight.
  5. Menstrual periods have stopped (this is known as amenorrhea).
  6. Is preoccupied with food, calories, and eating.
  7. Exercises excessively.
  8. Binges and purges.

The warning signs for bulimia include the following:

  1. She eats uncontrollably (binges), often in secret.
  2. She purges by vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics, or vigorously exercising. She may also compensate for eating with strict dieting or fasting.
  3. She frequently visits the bathroom after eating a meal.
  4. She is preoccupied with her body weight.
  5. She experiences depression or mood swings.
  6. She has irregular periods.
  7. She has dental problems, swollen cheek glands, or is bloated.

If you think your teen suffers from either anorexia or bulimia, do not hesitate to seek the advice of your physician. Early treatment greatly enhances the chances of recovery.

How to Build Your Teen’s Self-Esteem

Having strong self-esteem is critical, especially during the teen years. This is true for the following reasons:

  1. Self-esteem is a significant factor in how each of us manages our life.
  2. How we feel about ourselves guides the choices we make, how we feel, how we respond to events, and just about everything else we do.
  3. Strong self-esteem enables us to make constructive choices for ourselves and others.
  4. When our self-esteem is weak, we tend to make choices based on what others think and want, rather than on what is really best for us.

You can help your teen build and maintain his or her self-esteem in the following ways:

  1. Listen to what your teen is saying to you, in words and actions.
  2. Ask your teen’s opinion about things and accept it.
  3. Ask why he thinks the way he does.
  4. Remind yourself that your teen needs to differentiate herself from you. That is her job as an adolescent, and it is healthy. Allow her to do it.
  5. Let him know that you love him.
  6. Let her know that you will always be there for her.
  7. Give him permission to explore ideas.
  8. Don’t be threatened when she expresses herself.
  9. Encourage him to express his feelings appropriately.


Suggested Reading

Louise Bates Ames, Frances L. Ilg and Sidney M. Baker, Your Ten- to Fourteen-Year-Old. New York: Dell Trade Paperbacks, 1988.

Ruth Bell, Changing Bodies, Changing Selves, 3rd Edition. New York, NY: Times Books, 1998.

Kate Kelly, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Parenting a Teenager. New York, NY: Alpha Books, 1996.

Wade Horn and Carol Keough, Better Homes & Gardens New Teen Book. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Books, 1999.

Michael Riera, Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1995.