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Earlier this month, on March 2nd, we celebrated World Teen Mental Wellness Day. However, teen mental wellness is something that requires more attention and care than just one day. Taking care of our teen’s mental wellness means taking the extra effort to build a genuine, healthy relationship with your teen!
We all know that the teen years can be some of the toughest times in parenting. With changes in body, hormones, social relationships, and a desire for independence, it’s easy to let a wall be built between us and our teens. Though they may seem resistant, our teens need us the most during these years to ensure they have a trusted and supportive adult who can help them figure out such turbulent times.
Here are four ways to build a healthy relationship with your teen:
1. Be respectful of their growing independence.
During the teen years, your teen may give you attitude, argue with you more frequently, tell you that “you don’t get it”, and overall make it very difficult to do your job as a parent. You may be feeling like you’ve failed as a parent since your teen has changed from the child you knew before. This struggle is normal! Teens are simply exploring their independence and trying to establish themselves as their own person and it is not always a pretty transition.
As their parent, it helps to be mindful of this new chapter of self-discovery. Don’t make fun of your teen or discourage them when they are exploring different parts of themselves. Encourage them to be curious and confident! It may be anxiety-provoking to watch your child make mistakes, but sometimes that is the best way to learn. Your teen will develop good judgement by making mistakes and learning from them, so grant them the autonomy and privacy to do that. Of course, you don’t want your teen to be participating in unhealthy hobbies that can mentally or physically harm them (such as drugs and underaged drinking) which brings us to the next point.
2. Establish clear boundaries & values in the family
Although your teen is becoming a young adult, you still need to remain the main adult and point of guidance for your family. Without setting any boundaries or values for your teen, too much freedom can cause your teen to experience confusion about what to do with their independence. Instead, learn to balance giving your teen space to explore while calmly establishing boundaries. This can look like, during dinner saying, “I really want to spend time with you. Let’s both agree to keep our phones off and hang out as a family!” or “I want to make sure you’re safe, so let’s set a curfew for 10pm. If you need to go past that, you’ll need to talk to me ahead of time. Is that okay with you?”. When setting boundaries with your teen, make sure to explain why the boundary is needed and if it is value based, briefly explain why the value is important to you and your family (such as your need to know your teen is safe). Asking your teens to participate in boundary setting and rules is encouraged. You will find teens are more likely to follow the rules and boundaries if they have a part in setting them.
3. Be authentic and genuine.
At this age, teens appreciate and need to see when people are authentic and genuine. This means admitting when you are unsure of things or make a mistake. You can apologize to your teen when appropriate and show them that it is okay to not be perfect. It is even ok to “take a time out” if you are emotional about a topic or situation. It is ok to say, “I need to take a time out here. Give me 5 minutes and let’s get back to our conversation.” This allows your teen to know that we are all still growing and learning. When people fail or make a mistake, the right thing to do is to acknowledge it and then learn from it. Show your teen that you are proud of them and okay with the fact that we are all “works in progress”, and there is no shame about that!
4. Be engaged & interested in your teen's life.
More importantly than anything else, do not let the hardships of the teen years ruin the love between you and your teen. Continue to show them that you care with simple actions such as asking them about their day, looking for things to compliment them on, spending quality time together or, no matter how much you dislike it, listen to their music with them. Teens love coffee, boba, frozen yoghurt, video games, watching TikTok videos, etc. Find time to connect with your teen so they know you are a resource and someone available to talk to about anything! When you are talking with your teen, it can be easy to slip into unsolicited advice that may make them feel annoyed. If your teen does talk with you about a friend or themselves, listen and do not try to problem solve. LISTEN and do not give advice. If you want to give advice, ask if they want your advice before you share. Do not shame them if they approach you with an issue and respect the decisions that they choose to make. Offer guidance if they want it, otherwise, JUST LISTEN. It is important that parents are emotionally observant and present in a teen’s life. Make time to hang out with your teen and show them that you are always there to support not shame them!
Remember, as parents, we play a large role in getting our teens through the difficult transition from a being a child to a young adult. Without guidance, your teen can feel lost and confused which can lead to issues in their mental wellness. While parents can’t protect their children from everything that comes their way, we can make sure our teens know that they will always be loved and supported! Take the first step in building a lasting relationship with your teen today, and if you’re not sure where to start, Kids’ Turn San Diego is here for you!