Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Teenagers, Love Them And Outlast Them

March 29, 1999

Raising a teenager isn't easy.

Have you noticed how teens have a way of finding your blind spots? And there is nothing like having a teenager to teach you humility.

Teenagers don't grow up by themselves. It takes time. They need love, attention, communications, teaching and family activities as well as rules, limits, curfews and fair, consistent consequences. The commitment to parenting needs to be done at the expense of other competing goals and priorities. How your children turn out will eventually mean more to you than any other endeavor.

Here is some advice that may help your teenager feel good about him or herself and to be prepared for the demands and responsibilities of adult life.

Give love and acceptance. Fundamental to any relationship is honesty, trust and respect. Listening and emotional responsiveness communicate love and concern. Teens also feel loved when parents take an interest in their experiences, friends, whereabouts, struggles and successes.

Teens feel acceptance when they are able to express both strong positive and negative feelings. Parents can express affection by physical touch, admiration, praise, appreciation and expressions of love. Unconditional love should be the bedrock upon which the relationship is based.

Set an example. Teens need a good example. Much of what teens learn will be from observation of parents who are happy and secure in their own values and way of life. Examples of love, values, courage, problem-solving and a loving marriage will have a powerful impact on the ultimate values they will choose for their lives.

Parental values, spiritual beliefs, family worship and church attendance also play a role in setting high expectations for the choices teens make.

Give structure and discipline. Teens need discipline that is firm, consistent and predictable. Parents need to be clear about their basic standards of acceptable behavior and family rules.

Discipline that is unfair or too harsh creates angry or passive teens. If anger is a part of your discipline, they'll respond to the anger instead of the lesson that is being taught. Listen first and try to understand their point of view before making hard decisions.

Teens growing up in a home without clear limits have difficulty gauging and judging their behavior. They don't develop the inner controls and strength they need to regulate their own emotions or delay gratification. They have difficulty learning the connection between their actions, consequences and rewards. They feel unsure of their power and abilities.

Teens growing up in a "high risk" environment need close supervision. Alternative activities need to be provided in place of the destructive ones around them.

Give them responsibility. Teens grow from responsibility. This means planning, making decisions, making mistakes and dealing with the consequences of their actions. They also need honest feedback on their progress and rewards for doing what they do. When they are trusted, they learn to trust themselves. Work in the home, a part time job and learning to manage their own money are steps in taking on responsibility.

Within the framework of structure and limits, teens respond well to freedom and trust. They need experience in making choices. They need freedom to explore and learn about themselves. When they violate trust, then they have to face the consequences and earn trust back.

Create successful experiences. Young people respond to challenges, strong expectations and demands. These expectations should be within the range of their capability and skill. Special feelings of worth come from showing their unique abilities and talents. All the extra lessons, training and activities have a payoff.

Teens who succeed are use to being successful as children. It is the small successful experiences along the way that give them the confidence to try something new.

Youths need success at school. They need to feel good about their day-to-day achievements. Teens need to be complimented and encouraged for their improvement and effort. They should be measured against their own capabilities. Parents and teachers need to work together to insure that school is a positive experience. If there is a problem, parents can try to provide the extra help and attention their child needs.

Encourage social involvement. Most teens struggle with trying to fit in socially. This is where many feel the greatest threat to their self-esteem. Parents need to be active in teaching social skills. They need to give advice and understanding without being judgmental. Teens need to be propped up when they feel lonely and rejected.

One good friend makes a world of difference. When teens choose friends of high quality and standards, they turn peer pressure into a positive experience. Parents can encourage their teens to invite friends over and to plan special activities. They also can encourage them to get involved in school, church or community activities.

Provide opportunities to serve. Teens need the opportunity to learn service and to get outside of themselves. Service to others will give them special feelings of worth. It also will give them a feeling of belonging when other social relationships aren't going well. It is something to do to help them take their minds off their own troubles.

Love them and outlast them. Even if parents do all of the things mentioned here, the lives of teenagers will not be smooth. They can be moody and easily discouraged. They need extra patience and loving encouragement to help them make it through their turbulent times.

Hang in there. Love them and outlast them. They do grow up.