Living in peace with adolescent children

Has your sweet teenage child turned into an assertive and aloof know-it-all? It may feel like your child has reverted to a 2-year-old — “I want what I want when I want it!” — but you can no longer simply distract her with new toys.

Parents can help teenagers through this important developmental stage by helping them achieve the independence they will need while remaining considerate of others’ feelings and happy within themselves, even when they encounter disappointments. And we do have to regulate our kids’ behavior until they are on their own.

Such a big task can be influenced by earlier experiences of regulating childhood behavior within the closeness of the parent child-relationship. Here are a few ideas that may help you today.

You are responsible for your children’s behavior until they turn 18. It helps to be diplomatic and kind when you must say “no.” Acknowledging your child’s motive is helpful — “I can see why you want to stay all night at Ann’s party, but we don’t think that is safe for you. How about we have her and some of your other friends from the party come here in the morning for breakfast?” Understand your child’s motive and facilitate that independence in the context of safety and concern.

As your child matures and learns to negotiate permission, you can expand the parameters. Recognize gains with your child to encourage self-regulation.

Teenagers can be assertive in ways that seem disrespectful. Be gentle and respectful, no matter how your child addresses you, and you will show her how to be with others. Do not explode or rage at your child, no matter what she says to you. If you know that she lacks the skills to negotiate with kindness and firmness, give her that model. It will do wonders for her future.

Try to offer alternatives when you cannot say “yes” to show sincerity and respect. If your son wants to hitchhike to another state to visit a friend on Spring Break and you know this would be unsafe, tell him that you want him to go but want him to be safer traveling there. Don’t back down, but try to make it happen in a safe way. Then acknowledge his success in accomplishing this very adult task.

Helping teenagers in this transition can be challenging. We all have personal motives to be respected and taken seriously. We also have motives to help our children mature. If you can try to protect your child from your personal motives and give her your caregiving motives, you will advance her development and be more than happy with the adult relationship that will ensue.

If the suggestions above prove to be more difficult than you expected, take an in-depth look at “The Smart Love Parent,” a parenting guide written by Drs. William and Martha Heineman Pieper. Or seek the help of a mental health professional. It will be well worth the time and effort.

Walter D. Miller, LCSW, is a New Eastside clinical social worker who specializes in work with children, adolescents and adults. Contact him at 312-856- 0230.

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