As a mother or father, who hasn’t wished that their child came with a “How To Be The Perfect Parent” handbook? It would be nice if for every stage of emotional and physical growth there was a clear –one size fits all- plan that would take the stress and confusion out of developing good parenting skills. Alas though, there’s no such thing, but there are experts who can help guide parents.
With children, come different personalities that respond uniquely to his or her situations. It’s part of the challenge of raising a mature, thoughtful and self-sufficient adult.
The tween and teen years can be some of the most challenging times for child and parent relationships.
What is a “tween?” The tween years are approximately 9-14. It is less an age category than a developmental stage when your son or daughter is no longer a child and not yet a teen. Today puberty is statistically happening at younger ages on the average and that could be confusing to parents who think that their kids will be childlike until they’re 12.
More focus is placed on tween behaviors now than just 2 or 3 generations ago. Society has changed dramatically during the last decade. Media images that encourage “grown-up” looks and behaviors as well exposure to sexualized fashion, music, and even dolls has had an enormous impact on this generation of youngsters. The tween years aren’t what they used to be.
Everything is in flux as your little one strives for more independence, and you try your best to help them avoid making mistakes that can last a lifetime. And then there is the “generational gap” that puts a strain on being able to even have a civil conversation. Fashion, music, drugs, alcohol, sex, movies, cars, celebrities, school and peers begin to play a larger role in their life than you can possibly imagine.
And then there are teenagers, the adolescent years between 13 and 19.
There may not be a one size fits all easy-peasy guide to parenting available, but there are tips from experts that can help parents navigate the rough waters of the tween and teen years.
WebMD.com delves into 5 common mistakes parents make as their children hit the unpredictable tween and teen years. Let’s take a look at some recommendations.
Parenting Mistake # 1- Expecting the worse from your child.
Although the tween and teen years can be difficult, expecting the worse from your child can lead to self-fulfilling behaviors.
Teenagers get a bad rap, says Richard Lerner, PhD, director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University. Many parents approach raising teenagers as an ordeal, believing they can only watch helplessly as their lovable children transform into unpredictable monsters. Expecting the worst sets parents and teens up for several unhappy, unsatisfying years together.
“The message we give teenagers is that they’re only ‘good’ if they’re not doing ‘bad’ things, such as doing drugs, hanging around with the wrong crowd, or having sex,” Lerner tells WebMD. Raising teenagers with negative expectations can actually promote the behavior you fear most. According to a recent study conducted at Wake Forest University, teens whose parents expected them to get involved in risky behaviors reported higher levels of these behaviors one year later.
Lerner urges parents to focus on their teenagers’ interests and hobbies, even if you don’t understand them. You could open a new path of communication, reconnect with the child you love, and learn something new.
Parenting Mistake # 2 – Reading too many parenting books.
What was I just saying about wanting a book to provide all the parenting answers? It appears that is not only impossible, but it’s not even a good idea.
Rather than trusting their instincts, many parents turn to outside experts for advice on how to raise teens. “Parents can tie themselves into knots trying to follow the advice they read in books,” says Robert Evans, EdD, executive director of the Human Relations Service, Wellesley, Mass., and author of Family Matters: How Schools Can Cope with the Crisis in Child Rearing.
“Books become a problem when parents use them to replace their own innate skills,” Evans tells WebMD. “If the recommendations and their personal style don’t fit, parents wind up more anxious and less confident with their own children.”
Use books (and articles like this) to get perspective on confusing behavior and then put them down. Spend the extra time talking with your spouse and children, getting clear about what matters most to you and your family.
Parenting Mistake #3 – Sweat the Small Stuff
Too often, we all sweat the small stuff, and sometimes ignore the big stuff. It’s certainly much easier to focus in on a behavior that we don’t like instead of trying to deal with a behavior that is frightening or dangerous.
Maybe you don’t like your daughter’s haircut or choice of clothes. Or perhaps she didn’t get the part in the play you know she deserves. Before you intervene, look at the big picture. If a certain mode of self-expression or set of events does not put your child at risk, give her the leeway to make age-appropriate decisions and live with the results.
“A lot of parents don’t want growing up to involve any pain, disappointment, or failure,” Evans says. But protecting your child from the realities of life robs her of the opportunity to take chances and learn from her mistakes while she’s still under your roof. Step back and let your child know you’re there when she needs you.
Parenting Mistake # 4 – Ignore the Big Stuff
The big stuff is where things get dicey.
If you suspect your child is using alcohol or drugs, do not look the other way. Parents should address suspected drug or alcohol use right away, before it escalates into a bigger problem, says Amelia M. Arria, PhD, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
“The years when kids are between 13 and 18 years old are an essential time for parents to stay involved,” Arria tells WebMD. Parents might consider teen drinking a rite of passage because they drank when they were that age. “But the stakes are higher now,” she says.
More drugs are available today, illegal drugs and legal medications. For example, cough remedies with DXM (dextromethorphan) have become a new drug of choice for some teens. DXM is easy to get and teens and parents alike underrate its potential dangers. Studies show that between 7% and 10% of U.S. teens have reported abusing cough medicine to get high. Although safe when used as directed, DXM can cause hallucinations and disassociations similar to PCP or ketamine (Special K) when used in excessive amounts, as well as rapid heartbeat, unconsciousness, stomach pain, and vomiting.
Watch for unexplained changes in your teen’s behavior, appearance, academic performance, and friends. If you find empty cough medicine packaging in your child’s trash or backpack, if bottles of medicine go missing from your cabinet, or if you find unfamiliar pills, pipes, rolling papers, or matches, your child could be abusing drugs. Take these signs seriously and get involved. Safeguard all the medicines you have: Know which products are in your home and how much medication is in each package or bottle.
Drugs are not the only “Big stuff” to keep an eye on; too much time on the computer or texting, sexual activities and interests, distracted driving habits are just a few other categories that require more attention from parents.
Tweens and teens make mistakes and get themselves in over their head with drugs and alcohol, sexual behaviors, poor school grades and more. These risk behaviors can become real problems in your teen’s life and be hurdles in the way of their success. While it’s important for a parent of a teenager to allow privacy, we also have to be monitoring what our teens are into so we can help guide them away from risk taking behaviors. Your teen needs to have limits in your home. When you allow your teen to do anything they want, they will begin to take control and you are no longer the parent.
Parenting Mistake #5 – Rule With an Iron Fist, or Kid Gloves
Some parents, sensing a loss of control over their teens’ behavior, crack down every time their child steps out of line. Every day brings a new punishment. The home becomes a war zone. By contrast, other parents avoid all conflict for fear their teens will push them away. They put being a cool parent ahead of setting limits and enforcing rules. For these parents, discipline is a dirty word.
This style of parenting focuses on obedience above all else. Although the house may run like a tight ship, teens raised in rigid environments don’t have the opportunity to develop problem-solving or leadership skills.
Yet too little discipline does a disservice to teens as well. Teenagers need clear structure and rules to live by as they start to explore the world outside. It is up to parents to establish their household’s core values and communicate these to their children through words and consistent actions. Lerner calls this being an authoritative parent, an approach that “helps children develop the skills they need to govern themselves in appropriate ways.”
One key thing to remember about the tween and teen years is .. it’s not personal. It may feel very personal when your child yells that they hate you, can’t stand you, or never wants to see you again, but in most cases, it’s an angry outburst driven by not getting their way. Remember your teen years? We’ve all said things we regret later, learning to communicate effectively with your teen or tween smoothes a lot of bumpy roads.
Keep in mind that your influence runs deeper than you think. Most teens say they want to spend more time with their parents. And teens choose friends that have their parents’ core values. Keep making time for your child throughout the tween and teen years. Even when it doesn’t show, you provide the solid ground they know they can always come home to.