Raising Teenagers: Find the Balance Between Too Much and Too Little Control

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By Sarah Wilson, PhD

The teenage years are hard – on the teens, on the parents, on the entire family. After years of being your kid’s trusted confidant, you start getting put on the backburner as they begin claiming their independence. Raising teenagers is a new adventure filled with curfews, driving lessons, dances, and those notorious mood swings. A new territory is thrust upon you all at once. So how do you modify your parenting approach to match the needs of your teen? How do you find the balance between being a helicopter parent and the cool parent?

Remember your teenage years

It may feel like ages ago, but remember that you were once an angsty, know-it-all, teen. Try putting yourself in your kid’s shoes and remember what it feels like to be a teenager. The societal pressures, friend drama, family dynamics, and school stressors – all of this is new to your teen, just as it was once new to you. It’s important to remember though, that while you were once a teen, you were not your teen. Don’t project onto them. Raising teenagers is not parenting as you would’ve parented yourself. Unless you have evidence that your kid is sneaking out at night or skipping school, don’t assume that just because you did it, they are too. It’s important that you parent according to the unique needs of your teen.

Set clear boundaries

As your teen seeks freedom, it’s crucial that they receive enough to feel like they have a social life, but not too much where they believe they can get away with whatever they want. For example, raising teenagers means letting them go to that party, but defining the rules that go with it – set a curfew, require them to text you when they get there, and make sure their phone is on in case you need to get in touch with them. This is a good balance of control because by forbidding your teen from going altogether, they’ll only want to go more (and may even find a way). By sending them off with a “have fun! See you tomorrow”, you’re inviting a lack of boundaries. Test the waters the first few instances and if they respect your boundaries, you can become more flexible with time.

Provide reasons when you can

As you’re raising your teen, it’s vital to remember that they are beginning their transition into adulthood. Teenagers are inquisitive; they are no longer six years old, where the answer “because I said so” will suffice. When you set boundaries with your teen, explain your reasoning behind them. They may not always like or agree with your reasons, but you are the adult and you still have the ultimate authority. By giving them an explanation, you’re showing them respect and inviting them to do the same.

Give them an opportunity to practice independence

Relinquishing control is hard, but your teen will find ways to be independent whether or not you let them. They will, however, be less likely to rebel or experiment on their own, if you give them an area of their life to take total control of. Allow them to play that sport, join that group, have that side job, or get that pet they’ve been wanting. Give them permission to take something on, and ensure they remain accountable for the hard stuff too. If you agree to give them the dog they’ve been begging for, make sure they take responsibility for it. This might require them to stay in on weekend nights because the puppy still needs to be housebroken. Your teen needs to learn by experience that with independent decisions comes independent responsibilities.

The teenage years can feel especially difficult because, during a time when your child still needs you most, they act like they don’t. Remember that even as they push you away, they still crave your love and attention. Continue developing a healthy and balanced relationship with them by navigating this process together.
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Dr. Sarah Wilson is a marriage and family therapist associate at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Working with families and teens, as well as couples, are her areas of counseling specialty. Dr. Wilson can be reached for scheduling at 512-270-4883, ext. 104, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.