While this generation of teens is the most affluent and articulate yet, studies indicate they’re battling escalating levels of anxiety and depression. Not surprising given today’s teens are facing a whole raft of new experiences and challenges no other generation has faced. So how can we help them join the dots?
1. Catch your teen doing things right. While it’s natural to be concerned about alcohol and drugs, peer group pressure and porn, it’s important not to be so focused on where your teen might come unstuck, that you fail to give them credit for the good decisions they make.
Research suggests a 5 : 1 ratio is needed to feel positive about ourselves. Put simply, we need five times as many encouraging remarks as critical ones to build self-esteem. So take time to acknowledge the pressures your teenage son or daughter faces. Talk through their issues. Take an interest in pop culture. Appreciate the positive aspects of teen culture alongside its less desirable qualities, and you will enjoy a far more productive relationship with your teen.
2. Don’t shy away from difficult subjects. Homes where awkward topics can be openly and sensibly discussed are ahead of the game. Here parents are more likely to be the ‘go-to’ people when their teen has a burning question or tricky dilemma. Resist the temptation to lecture. Discuss things through instead. Remember it’s not just the big issues, such as sex and drugs that need airing. So too do uncomfortable feelings, embarrassing situations, and tender dreams.
3. Take a solutions-based approach to mistakes. If your teen has made an error of judgement it’s more fruitful to examine the situation together, tease out the issues, then work towards a solution. Equally important is the opportunity to grow your teen’s emotional intelligence. Talk about how their actions have impacted others. Help them see how the injured party may be feeling. Then help them decide on how best to make amends.
4. Teen life isn’t all bad. It’s simply the transition between childhood and adulthood. As with any transition, there’s bound to be shaky moments. Sometimes the training wheels do fly off. Yet teen life can still be inspired, exciting and positive. Teens are best supported by a vibrant home life that offers clear boundaries and is welcoming of friends.
Help stretch your teen’s life experience by mixing with friends across the generations and from differing cultural backgrounds. Make volunteering part of what your family does. Teens learn best by example, by watching you problem-solve and deal with your own strengths and vulnerabilities, by seeing you interact with friends and neighbours, and the local community.
5. Let teachers do their job. Don’t bully or undermine your teen’s teacher. This is poor role modelling, and displays a distinct lack of judgement. Parents who constantly interfere in the classroom sabotage their teen’s ability to problem-solve, accept responsibility for their actions, respect authority, understand the importance of boundaries and of playing by the rules. Don’t sell your teen short. Develop a positive open relationship with your teen’s teachers, and everyone will benefit.
6. Failure helps builds resilience. It’s uncomfortable to deal with disappointment or failure. But where else would you want your teen to learn these essential life skills, if not during their teen years? The sooner your teen knows how to handle failure and learn from it, the more empowered they will be. International resilience expert Michael Ungar warns parents against overprotecting their teenagers. He encourages parents to expose their kids to managed risk, to help stretch their teen’s capabilities and life skills.
7. Boredom has its bonuses. Often parents panic when their teen is bored, but boredom has its positives too. Teens need to learn how to manage downtime, to learn to chill out. Recent research points to clear links between space between our thoughts, and a healthy imagination. So there needs to room in our heads for new ideas to emerge. The best way to teach teens the benefits of boredom is to carve out some family space each week for everyone to step back and relax.
8. Cool parents suck. Sometimes it’s hard to know as a parent if you’ve made the right call. What’s clear is that tomorrow belongs to the kids who are confident, creative, and emotionally intelligent. To those who are interested and engaged with the world around them. You role as a parent is to seek out the people and situations that will help your teen achieve these qualities. In moments of doubt about your approach, remember cool parenting is only ever about you, while good parenting is about doing what’s best for your teen.