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Keeping up with your High Schooler
10/4/2012 4:51:44 PM

Your cheerful, "Hey, how was school?" gets a mumbled, "Okay.” You ask, "What did you guys do tonight?” and the response is a shrug and a monotone, "Nothing.” You feel that the door has slammed shut – literally and figuratively – on your once open and close relationship with your child.

You’re living with a high school teen.

Parenting a teen during the high school years can often feel like navigating a winding road in the dark, blindfolded and with ear plugs. Knowing what is going on in their life, much less in their head, is a daunting task for parents.

Although it may not feel like it, experts say it is normal, and even healthy, for teenagers to withdraw from their parents’ company and spend more time with their friends and outside activities during the high school years. "The high school years are the phase of life when kids make the transition from childhood to adulthood,” says Chauntelle LeJeune, MS, LPC, LMFT, therapist with Solutions Counseling &EAP. "This shift to independence is what you’ve been helping them strive toward their entire life, if you’ve done your job right and gradually given them more responsibilities through the years. But with that being said, it doesn’t mean they are ready for you to step out of their life completely. This is a time when you need to begin letting go, but still stay connected. Make sure they understand that their freedom and privileges are directly related to how well they demonstrate responsible behavior.”

She says it’s important to keep in mind that during high school, teens may look like adults, but their brains are not the same as adults. Teens can easily be irrational and truly believe that they are right, even when they are making dangerous decisions. After all, they don't have the experience required to be rational in every situation. "They may think they are capable of making adult decisions without your help, but they still need your guidance. It’s not uncommon to see a glimpse of maturity and suddenly they are rebellious and childish once again. The key for parents is to transition from telling them what to do to getting them to think for themselves and arrive at the best decision.”

Unfortunately, many parents give up trying to stay connected to their teens. When their teens tell us to stay out of their lives, some parents take it personally, and even worse – do so. "Feelings get hurt, and parents retreat from them at an intense, confusing time in their lives when they need you to stay very interested in who they are, what they think and where they are going,” says LeJeune.

As difficult as it may be, she says parents have to stay connected and aware of what is going on in your high schooler’s life. "They need you now more than ever.”

She offers the following suggestions:

Listening is as Important as Talking

There is such a thing as talking too much. Sure, there is a time for talking, but with a teenager, you'll find that listening to them is as important as talking. Listening opens up lines of communication and lets them know that they can talk to you when they need to. You'll also find out a lot of important information from your teen if you take the time to listen to them.

Give More Freedom When they Show More Responsibility

While it's easy to hold on to your teen and try to protect them by keeping them close, you do need to give them more freedom over time. When they show more responsibility, trust them and give them more freedom. As you show them that their responsibility pays off, they'll respect and trust you, as well as learn this valuable lesson. They'll also be more likely to come to you about things instead of shutting you out when you treat them this way.

Expect Some Detours and Defiance

Even as you are doing your best to stay connected to your teen, there are going to be some bumps in the road and even defiant moments. Realize that this is something to be expected from teens. They operate from emotions and you formulate opinions on their experiences. This means your ideas aren't always going to meet in the middle. Sometimes teens use defiance as a way to make themselves feel more independent. Learn to live with this – up to a point.

Choose your Battles

If you want to stay involved in your teen’s life, you are going to need to learn to choose your battles and let some small issues go. Instead of going overboard with punishment for something small that really doesn't matter that much and is a cause that isn't worth fighting for, save that for the big conflicts that you have. When you have big confrontations about small issues, it breaks down the bond and the lines of communication. Save the big time punishments, including restrictions, for the times when big offenses occur that really matter. The fact they don't dress in a way you like is a really minor in the big scheme of things. Missing curfew by two minutes is a small matter. Staying out all night or drinking at a party are big deals.

LeJeune says instead of looking at your teen and seeing a stranger, get to know the adult they are becoming. "You don’t have to give up your authority role and you definitely should command respect, but you can stay connected and develop an even closer relationship with your child during this time. Brace yourself for a bumpy couple of years, but at the end, you’ll have established a solid foundation for a lasting adult relationship.”

Posted by: Kristy Armand | Submit comment | Tell a friend

Categories: Parenting

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