Contributor Dr. Elise Herman
As kids get older, the joys and challenges of parenting change. Teenagers can be wonderful people—enthusiastic, very involved with friends, and with passionate opinions and feelings. However, they can also be impulsive, take risks and feel invulnerable, creating a setup for poor decisions. In addition, teens are working on independence, which can mean pushing back against authority (i.e., us parents). It is all-natural but can create some tension in the household.
Many parenting goals now are the same as when your child was younger, such as encouraging a healthy lifestyle. This includes good nutrition, family meals, getting outside regularly, and adequate sleep. Teens generally need 8-10 hours of sleep nightly but often want to stay up late and then sleep in or have difficulty getting up for school. “Sleeping in” on the weekends should be no more than 1-2 hours later than usual, and naps should be avoided. There should be no caffeine later in the day (this includes pop). Phones or other devices should not be used within an hour of bedtime; ideally, phones are out of the bedroom at night to limit temptation. If you feel this won’t work, parental controls can also be used to manage data access.
Safety is a big topic for teens— so many new things are happening! Driving, dating, possible alcohol and drug use, mental health concerns. Find moments to chat with your teen about some of these issues in shorter conversations, possibly when the two of you are in the car or making a meal. If something is in the news, such as cyberbullying, use that as a start to a discussion (not a lecture). Acknowledge that things are more complicated and high-pressured for them than when you were a teen and that you would like to know more about their world.
Encouraging autonomy means having clear, consistent rules and expectations (ideally agreed upon by your teen) for driving, dating, curfew, etc., gradually giving them more freedom. Acknowledging their successes helps build confidence and will make you comfortable giving them more responsibility. Consequences for poor behavior should be “firm and fair” and be understood by your child beforehand. Give your child a more significant voice on decisions such as meals, activities, and family plans; weekly brief family meetings are a great time to let your teen know their input is valued.
Teens are really in training for adulthood, and you need to give them life skills to succeed. Having chores, learning to set a budget, and being able to cook and clean are crucial. A part-time job encourages responsibility and teaches your teen to balance work, school, and other activities. Learning to drive can be challenging and perhaps worrisome to parents, but it is necessary to become independent. Teens should know how to do essential home repairs, change a tire and deal with small emergencies (such as power outages or grease fires in the kitchen). Teach them essential money management, such as using a credit card responsibly and spending wisely within their means. Learning to regulate emotions is also a necessary part of growing up. Model this by trying to remain calm, talking about your feelings, or taking a break from an uncomfortable situation.
The teen years can be challenging for you and your child as they strive for more independence. Mistakes may be made, but let them know you are there to support them. Don’t be afraid to tell them you love them, even if it sometimes feels awkward. They may not always act like it, but adolescents still want to know they are loved unconditionally, so even a brief hug or high five is reassuring when life may feel stressful and confusing.
more about The contributor
Dr. Elise Herman
Dr. Herman is passionate about community health outreach, school programs, and child/family health and wellness. She has more than 31 years of experience as a pediatrician in Ellensburg, Washington, the last 3 with KVH Pediatrics. In 2022 Dr. Herman mostly retired from practice and continues to contribute blog posts and remain a visible advocate for kids in the community.