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Parenting & Teens - Welcome to the Twilight Zone!

Many of us remember that famous opening monologue, "You're traveling through another dimension - a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's a signpost up ahead: your next stop - The Twilight Zone!" I feel like this perfectly describes the transition from parenting a young child to parenting a teen.

The teenage years are a time of immense change and self-discovery for both teenagers and their parents. It is crucial to recognize that teenagers are undergoing physical, emotional, and cognitive transformations, which can often lead to heightened emotions, rebellion, and a desire for independence. They will often love and support whatever you speak most unfavorably about. Understanding these changes is the first step toward effective parenting during this phase. Here's four key tips to adjusting your expectations while leading through the changes:

1. Communication is key. Open and honest communication is vital when parenting teens. The more you talk openly, without judgement, the more likely your teen continues to communicate. Actively listen to concerns and validate their ever-evolving emotions. In elementary and middle school, your child loved football and football was their life! In high school, suddenly then never liked football and want you to stop pressuring them to play so they can join the school play...

2. Set healthy boundaries.  Teens crave independence, but they still need guidance and structure. Establish clear boundaries and expectations while ensuring that they understand the consequences of their actions It is, however, equally important to allow them to make their own decision and to face natural consequences. I once heard these opportunities called "featherbed failures." That means allowing them to make decisions, like quitting a job or turning in school assignments late, and then not giving them money to do things or just not commenting on their lower grade.

3. Empathy and Understanding. Teenagers often face immense pressure from peers, school, and society. You were once a teenager, and there was a time that you felt lost and rebelled. Show empathy and understanding towards their struggles, which are very different from the struggles that you faced. Don't place your own teen wounds and assumptions on your child. Validate experiences and offer support when needed. Be a compassionate and understanding presence in their lives so you can help them navigate the challenges they encounter.

4. Maintain Connection.  As teens strive for independence, it is common for them to distance themselves from their parents. It is crucial for you to maintain a strong connection with your teen. Find shared interests or activities that you can enjoy together - even if it's not totally your thing! Regularly spend quality time with your teenager, whether it's through family movie night, a few family dinners each week, or engaging in *their* hobbies. These connections will provide a solid foundation for your evolving relationship! 

Sending you patience and empathy as you navigate the twilight zone,

Heather Murray, LCSW