How Child-Rearing Shifts During the Teen Years

It seems like children change overnight from innocent, playful kids into tweens and teenagers experiencing hormonal shifts and questioning the complex world we live in. Parents are often nervous about navigating the parent-child relationship during those teen years when their children begin testing their independence and challenging or questioning authority.

They’re maturing, and parents may find they need to adjust their child-rearing strategy to accommodate and meet their teenager’s changing needs.

While raising a teenager is hard work, it doesn’t have to be dreaded work. Parents who are equipped with information about why their teens act the way they do can react in a productive way and even enjoy the time when their teens are slowly growing into young adults.

Here’s helpful information to equip you for the journey.

Change It Up: How Parenting Teens is Different than Parenting Young Children

In a recent article for Greater Good Magazine, Dr. Christine Carter, author of “The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction,” writes that parents have to accept their changing role in their kid’s life as the child reaches adolescence.

Parents spend the early years of their children’s lives making every little decision for them as they decide where the kids will go to school, establish bedtime routines, choose what movies and shows are appropriate, manage how vacation time is spent, among other day-to-day activities. Dr. Carter describes parents of young children as “managers” or “chiefs of staff.”

While young children enjoy this level of structure and control, teenagers view it as micromanagement. Overbearing structure and little autonomy can cause them to rebel. Teens need room to spread their wings and test their independence, but parents find it challenging to figure out how much — or how little — autonomy is appropriate.

Experts recommend handing over the decision-making reins. You still enforce household rules and consequences, Dr. Carter explains, but you transition from your role as “manager” to a new role as “life coach” — offering emotional support and advice without overbearing direction and instruction.

Strike the Right Balance With ‘Sensitively Attuned Parenting’

Dr. Carter’s assertions are supported by published research on the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) website, which recommends what’s referred to by experts as “sensitively attuned parenting.” It’s the recommended response to the challenges of parenting teenagers, as parents learn to balance a need to protect children’s safety while also supporting their teen’s desire for autonomous decision-making.

NIH researchers have found that parenting practices that facilitate sensitively attuned parenting fall into three broad categories: positive engagement, monitoring and supervising behavior, and open communication.

Positive Engagement

Positive engagement begins during childhood and sets the foundation for mutual positive feelings and respect through adolescence. Positive engagement includes expressions of affection, mutual emotional support, positive family relationships, supportive parenting, predictable schedules, and routine family time, such as family dinners.

Monitoring and Supervising Behavior

Monitoring a teen’s behavior allows parents to make informed decisions as they develop trust in their children and support autonomous decision-making. When parents monitor their children and see them make good decisions, parents feel more comfortable increasing their teens’ opportunities to make decisions on their own.

Parents who observe risky behavior may need to increase supervision out of consideration for their child’s safety. The challenge for parents is making accurate assessments about how much supervision their child needs.

Open Communication

Particularly with teenagers, it’s important for parents to have discussions rather than deliver lectures. According to NIH, a parent’s capacity to listen, empathize and then respond fosters a sense of understanding that makes teens feel supported and understood.

In short, when teens feel like their parents are willing to listen to their points of view, experiences, and motivations, teens become more trusting. They become more willing to open the lines of communication when they feel like their parents are truly listening, rather than simply laying down the law without discussion.

Understanding the Teenage Brain

Parents who understand why teenagers act and think the way they do are better equipped to respond during conflicts or challenging moments.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the brain’s frontal cortex, which controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, isn’t fully developed until adulthood.

On the other hand, the part of the brain responsible for immediate reactions like fear and aggressive behavior — the region called the amygdala — develops much earlier.

Without help from a fully developed brain, teens are more likely to make impulsive or irrational decisions as their amygdala isn’t balanced out yet by the frontal cortex.

Because of their still-developing brains, teens act much differently than adults. They’re less likely to think before they act, consider consequences, or change behaviors that are dangerous, making them more likely to get into accidents, embroiled in fights, and engage in dangerous behavior like underage drinking.

Connecting With Teens: Discussing the Tough Topics

Talking about sex, alcohol, drugs, and other uncomfortable topics is often a dreaded part of child-rearing for many parents. Fortunately, there are unlimited resources to help parents navigate these difficult discussions. Here are helpful tips for starting the conversation and keeping it going.

Have Frequent Talks Rather Than One Big Lecture

As mentioned earlier in this article, parents of teens should avoid lecturing and make sure to give your child an opportunity to express their opinions and share their experiences and motivations for making certain decisions.

Rather than preparing for one dreaded conversation, or “the talk,” plan instead to talk early and talk often with your child about topics like underage drinking. Having several little talks takes some of the pressure off and opens the lines of communication on the topic to more than just one event. Over time, teens and parents become more comfortable discussing the hard stuff.

Give Teens the Facts

Teens gather information from TV, social media, and other media that’s not always an accurate depiction. Alcohol, for example, often looks “cool” or “fun” in movies, but films often lack appropriate context. Teens see the Hollywood depictions that lack information about the dangers of underage drinking.

Many teens don’t understand the impact of alcohol consumption on their developing brains. Talk to them about how underage drinking increases their chances of becoming an alcoholic later in life and educate them about underage drinking facts and health risks.

Talk It Out NC Can Help You Keep the Conversation Going

Parents and mentors looking for conversation starters and advice to talk to teens about underage drinking have come to the right place. Talk It Out NC has a wealth of information and expert advice to help parents and teens prevent underage drinking.