Every parent dreads the tween and teen years. The attitudes, the surliness, the pushing boundaries, and the friends you never seem to see: it can all be very frustrating and leave you worried about their futures. Rest assured, this is all part of growing up, as our children work toward being fully independent and leaving the nest, and you should not take it personally (though it can be hard not to!). How can parents approach these years in ways that will keep the household functioning and result in competent, happy, and well-adjusted twenty-somethings?
Set Expectations for Your Tween or Teen
Regularly talk with your kids before and during the teen years, and be very clear about your expectations for them with chores, with schoolwork and online behavior, with outside activities, with drugs and alcohol, with friends, with a curfew. Making age-related adjustments and additions to your expectations will demonstrate your trust while also giving teens the increased independence they crave and need. This also means discipline and consequences will be necessary on occasion. You can discuss some consequences with your teen in advance (what happens if they miss curfew, skip chores, get poor grades, incur a high cell phone bill).
Pick Your Battles
Tweens and teens need freedom-it is just a part of growing into a functioning adult. A certain amount of rebellion is completely normal. Yes, you will need to let many things that bother you roll off your back, like black nail polish, strange clothing choices, music you can't stand, and chores completed at times or in ways you would never choose. Your teen might even want to give up an old favorite sport or hobby in favor of something new. But as long as they meet basic hygiene needs, follow school dress codes, complete school assignments, and continue with the more important extracurricular activities, these are worth conversations and not arguments.
Talk and Listen
So you are having regular conversations with your tweens and teens, perhaps even scheduling them or doing something fun together while you talk. But be sure to listen as well and don't argue. Why does your daughter want pink hair? Why does your son want to give up the violin for guitar? Discuss schoolwork, new friends, problems, sports, movies, anything they want. Talk about the dangers of texting, sexting, illegal and prescription drugs, tobacco products, choking games, and alcohol use. Be especially clear that your child is not to get into a car with a drunk driver, ever, even if the driver is a trusted or admired friend. And, let them know they are to feel free to talk to you or call you day or night without fear.
Be an Example
Your behavior is the model your tweens or teens will follow. Teens will immediately notice if you don't follow your own rules. Put the phone away during family time, as emails and sports scores can wait. Don't order pizza because you didn't feel like making dinner (maybe it's time to assign your teen a night to cook). Don't drive after that glass of wine with dinner. Follow through on consequences, no matter how much it disrupts your schedule. Invite their new friends over, call or meet with their parents; don't just complain to your child that you "don't know their friends." If you make an effort, your teens will appreciate you for it, and might even thank you in a few more years.