Do you have any advice for parents about how to survive the teen years? I'm really getting worn down by the constant conflicts, mood swings and challenges to my authority. What should I do?
Conflict is "business as usual" during the teen years. It's to be expected. Your adolescent is a person with a mind of her own and a strong and growing desire for increasing amounts of freedom, independence and self-determination. You have certain goals in mind for her future and she has ideas of her own – very different ideas in many cases. You shouldn't back down when a disagreement involves a difference of opinion about beliefs and values that you consider essential and fundamental. But neither should you drive yourself to the brink over something you're ultimately in no position to change or control. The important thing is to get through this experience with as little damage as possible to the parent-child relationship and your own sanity.
It's also helpful to bear in mind that how you react to conflicts with your teen can be driven by your own needs and desires as much as by any consideration of what's best for her. At a time like this the familiar phrase "Know thyself" takes on a special significance. As your child moves through the teen years, you need to take time to stay in touch with your own feelings, examine your own issues and remember who you are. Here are some basic questions that may help you do this:
- Where are you looking for fulfillment and contentment? Does your identity depend upon your adolescent's appearance, grades, performance in sports or other accomplishments? Are you invested too heavily in your growing child – in other words, is she the intellectual and emotional center of your life? Has your sense of personal significance been built upon the rock of a deep relationship with your Creator or on the shifting sand of your teenager's behavior or opinion of you? The answers to these questions will affect your ability to accept and appreciate your child on a day-to-day basis. Knowing that your worth doesn't hinge on the ebb and flow of teenage opinion will help you avoid irrational reactions and keep your feet on solid ground.
- Does your life have any margin? Is your calendar jammed? Are you physically, emotionally and financially spent most of the time? Many parents arrive at mid-life neck-deep in responsibilities and commitments – just as their kids are entering and passing through adolescence. Cares and concerns can be so overwhelming that their teen's anxiety about a weekend date or an overdue homework assignment may seem trivial. If this is your situation, you need to take steps to alter it. Years from now, your grown children will not care nearly as much about your accomplishments, career track or net worth as they will about the quality of the relationship they had with you while growing up.
- Are you nurturing your marriage? As you move through your children's adolescent years, are you and your spouse still on the same team? Do you build one another up in front of the kids, or do you unleash verbal attacks for all to see? An intact, stable marriage where affection and mutual respect are openly demonstrated is a valuable asset for raising teenagers. If either partner believes that the marriage needs a tune-up, then both should set aside whatever time is necessary to work things out with the help of a counselor or pastor. If your marriage is troubled and you've been thinking that this might be a good time to escape and start over (after all, the kids are older now and can "handle it better"), think again. With very rare exceptions a divorce will create a profound sense of loss and insecurity in a teenager's mind. (The only exception is when it's absolutely necessary to get away from a spouse whose behavior is abusive and destructive).
- If you are bringing up one or more adolescents as a single parent, are you maintaining a healthy balance between love and limits? Raising teens is a major undertaking for two parents and a far tougher task if you're on your own. If at all possible, enlist another mature person (a relative, a friend or a member of a support group) to spend time with your adolescent. Someone who knows you and your child(ren) well can be particularly helpful in providing another viewpoint if you reach an impasse in your relationship.
Through it all, maintain an attitude of genuine interest and respect toward your teen. Adolescents despise being treated like little kids. Even though your child may be light-years away from grown-up maturity and responsibilities, you will build strong bonds and smooth your path over the next few years by talking to her as you would to another adult you respect. This, like anything else in life that is worthwhile, takes time and energy.
If you need help applying these principles or would simply like to discuss them at greater length, we hope you'll feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
Coping With the Challenge of Parenting Adolescents: Dr. Greg Smalley discusses how to navigate conflicts with your teenagers.
Boundaries With Teens
Parents of Teens (resource list)
Your Teen Needs You