Most parents look back on their teenage years and cringe.

For some, it’s remembering problems with their parents, schools, or the police. Others recall the emotional torment that those years entailed.

Teenage years are a time of intense physical and emotional development.

The years from ages 13-19 are a time for pushing limits, for exploring new ways of thinking and behaving. It can be a chaotic, stressful time for both parents and teens.

It’s normal for parents to imagine their own children behaving in the same manner as they themselves did.

While biological children may share half of their parents’ genetics, each child has his or her own way of interacting with the world. Even if a parent could clearly remember their own teenage years, their child’s emotions, difficulties, and stresses are often very different.

Here are some unexpected challenges of parenting teenagers, and some ways to help both parents and teens cope.

  1. As with every generation, there are different stresses, hardships, mentalities, and norms from the previous generations.  Many of the issues that you as a parent struggled with are the same: school stress, drugs, alcohol and fighting with parents. Many of the newer problems have to deal with technology: internet bullying, sexting, connecting through technology, internet predators. Keep abreast of what is happening in your child’s life, the media they are exposed to, the trends and fads that are happening. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of safety because you’re not finding beer bottles around – it may just be that they’re huffing household chemicals.
  2. Teenager brains are different from adults’ brains. They may be taller than you, have facial hair, be incredibly intelligent and make good decisions, but their brains are simply not fully formed. Although the size of their brain doesn’t change much during the teenage years, what is happening inside does. Parts of the brain that help balance impulses, goals, and even altruism are forming and not yet complete. A wonderful article in the National Geographic explains this and should be read by every parent.
  3. No matter how smart, intuitive, or logical they are, teenagers will do dumb things. And when asked why, they most likely will reply “I don’t know,” and this is very likely the case. Learn to be at peace with not understanding them.
  4. Your child is not you. Their successes and failures are not yours. Don’t try to relive your childhood through them: don’t push them into football if they have no desire or skill, don’t criticize them for not running for class president if it’s not their thing. Give them space and freedom to figure out who they are and who they want to be.
  5. These years will not last forever. Your sweet 15-year-old may be caught using cocaine, your intelligent 16-year-old may drop out of high school, or your ‘good’ 14-year-old may get pregnant. It will pass, and things will get better. Most kids who get into trouble at this age turn out just fine.

Just like when parenting an infant or toddler, you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be good enough. Apologize to your teen when you mess up. Forgive them when they mess up. Take things one day at a time. Do the best you can. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but save your energy for the big issues.

And don’t give up on them, ever.


photo from Photobucket