5 Tips for Parenting Adolescents: Part 1

By: Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Life inherently contains many stressful situations. When you have kids, you multiply the number of stressful situations by a lot, and when they reach adolescence, the number usually goes through the roof. Besides, parenting can be more even challenging if you actually want to do well at it! Meaning you are probably trying hard at it (you are reading an article on parenting after all). You are to be commended. In light of the Olympics, there should be a medal for parenting these days. (In actuality, there is the medal of children who become honorable, virtuous adults). I’d like to offer five broad stroke perspectives that I believe are relevant and helpful for maneuvering through the jungle that is raising adolescents successfully. And successful does not mean just to “survive” it, although it may often feel like that. I know you long for it to be more than just that, and I believe it can be. I’ve broken down the five points into a five part series. Here is tip number 1.

1.       Find other outlets for managing your stress

·         Many of us, when stressed out, focus on the object of our stress more and more. We think that the way to reduce our stress must be about pushing harder, as we see the cause of our stress as a problem to be solved - and the sooner the better! In the case of parenting teens, this means we interpret our teen as the problem to be solved. Let me assure you that seeing a person as a problem to be solved does not bring about satisfying results in any relationship. Parenting is fundamentally about a relationship, not a task. And we are more likely to develop this task-oriented approach when our stress level has reached unmanageable proportions.

·         Therefore, find some other ways to address and reduce your stress. Maybe one of them would be to create some space between you and your teen. Let me caution you against utilizing this approach as a weapon to shame or punish or manipulate your child. Do not make it their fault that you need some time. Focus on owning your stress level and your emotional state. Adults benefit from “time outs” too. And stepping away when you are upset or burned out models respect because you can explain that you are getting upset and yet you don’t want to say anything hurtful. And remember, I said that parenting is about relationship, and so creating space when you need to is not about retreat or escape. You do need to come back. And come back with the renewed energy and hopefulness that refreshment can provide. Think about some ways that you can address your stress level. If you need ideas, check out our website at www.lifeworksgroup.org

·         Although you have now reduced your stress somewhat, your child is still going to do and be the same person, meaning they are going to continue to frustrate and aggravate and confuse you in the same ways. The point here is not to simply continue to pull away, take care of yourself and reduce your stress only to have it shoot up in the next day or so again. This would only encourage the escape mentality. What we all need is a more effective way to come back and manage the stress that is always there.

·         Managing the stress that is always there involves reshaping our perceptions and thoughts and building resiliency. This does not mean that we just put more pressure on ourselves to hang in there or figure it out. Many folks are on a never ending treadmill, working to make themselves better by just gritting their teeth and trying harder.  This approach produces a cycle of disappointment and renewed efforts that invariably lead to burn out.

·          Reshaping our perceptions and thoughts is not easy work. It means that sometimes we get stressed and worked up by situations because of how we interpret them rather than what is actually there. Say my daughter comes home in a bad mood and ignores me when I greet her and heads to her room. I feel anger and head after her to confront her rudeness, and an argument ensues, which leaves me feeling unsettled and stressed out for awhile. I interpreted her moodiness and lack of acknowledgement to me as rudeness that needed to be confronted. Yet, the meaning of her mood and her behavior may have had completely different motives, ones that were not intending disrespect.

·         We all have an internal dialogue, and there is a lot going on in there. But when we are stressed we are more prone to skip the dialogue and jump to the conclusion. We are in a hurry to get internal emotional relief, and we believe that an external solution will provide it. Besides, most of us are not well trained in tuning in to their internal dialogue. This is a lot of what the pulling away suggestion is to be about. Pull away so that you can sort through your thoughts and feelings.

·         Lastly, separate out the different sources of your stress. If you are experiencing a high level of stress from a job situation or your financial state or your relationship with your spouse, then what you need is to address that separately. Recognize that you are bringing that stress into your parenting and that it is “gumming up the works”. Find a way to reduce one of these other stressors and see if that doesn’t bring some energy and clarity to your parenting.

In part two of the series we’ll take a look at how to address negativity in your adolescent.

Matt W.  Sandford, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor

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