All parents want their children to grow up to be responsible, self-sufficient adults, but the transition from childhood to adulthood — the teenage years — can be rocky for parents and children.
It’s during this time children often test parents’ limits and start requesting things like cell phones, later curfews and less adult supervision. This is also the time when many parents have to decide where they stand on many issues, financially and morally, and learn how to graciously and responsibly let go.
Letting go, while at the same time raising children to be responsible adults, is a huge task for anyone, but fortunately it’s one that millions of parents have accomplished since the beginning of time, and it’s something you can do, too.
While to you, your child may always be your little baby, children grow up quickly. College and adulthood will be here before you know it. Many parents play an active role in their child’s early life and some might even admit to being overly involved. Now is the time to start seeing your teenagers as the young adults they are becoming. You have helped shape their beliefs since they were little. You can now work specifically to help them develop a sense of responsibility as they grow older.
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to listen to your children. They have valuable ideas and reasons for their actions. Chances are you can glean important information about their friends at school and their habits, their teachers, schoolwork and their developing views of the world. If you don’t agree with everything your child thinks or does, don’t be quick to scold. They may start hiding parts of their lives from you altogether. Instead, ask them questions that make them critically think through their actions and help them realize there are consequences for inappropriate behaviors.
At the same time, you need to set clear limits and develop clear consequences for unacceptable behavior. This way your children understand what happens if they don’t do their homework, receive failing grades or lie about the people they are with. If your child has a group of close friends, make it a point to meet the parents, if you haven’t already. Discuss with them how you feel about all of these new freedoms your child is requesting and ask where they stand on these with their child, such as the appropriate amount of adult supervision at parties. You may be able to talk about establishing similar guidelines for your child’s core group. For example, if all the teens have the same curfew, chances are one isn’t going to feel they are being treated unfairly by their parents.
When children are babies and toddlers, many parents praise them for every milestone they hit, such as saying their first words, walking, reciting their ABCs, etc. But as they get older, these praises seem to decline. Don’t always focus on what your child does wrong. Praise them when they do something right. Tell them you’re proud of them when they get good grades, are kind to others, say no to smoking, etc. You also can attach specific rewards, such as going over to a friend’s house or getting the car for the night when they cheerfully complete chores without having to be reminded.
These seemingly mundane, routine tasks, learned over time as children and youth, form the basis for responsible behavior as adults. It is a parent’s responsibility to model such behavior as they train their young ones toward maturity.
For more information about parenting topics, contact the Boyd County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
CAROLE GNATUK is senior extension specialist for child development.