Imagine you’ve just gotten out of your meeting at work. You’re hungry, tired, and suddenly you get a call from your child’s school telling you they have been expelled and to please come to pick them up immediately. Chances are, as you get into your car and head to pick them up, all sorts of thoughts start swarming around in your head. “What did my child do?” “Are they hurt?” “Did they hurt someone?” “Grounded does not even begin to describe the consequences they will face for this!” And finally,” What did I do wrong?” Hands down, one of the most complex parts of parenting is the fear that we have messed up on teaching our child right from wrong. When our children are hurt, we hurt for them; when they triumph, we rejoice in their happiness, but when they mess up, we look in the mirror and try to figure out where we, as their parents, dropped the ball.
It can feel like a slap-in-the-face wake-up call when our child gets caught doing something unjustified or unwarranted. However, sometimes we can get so caught up in life that we miss seeing our child’s insurmountable changes during the years. When we think we have it down, we realize that we don’t. We’ve passed the diaper stage, conquered the elementary school years, and even learned how to face parenting during puberty. We think we got this parenting thing under control; in walks our teenager and changes everything! Again! Parents, just like everything else we have faced with our children learning, how to help your child navigate this time of their life takes effort and self-love on our end. Parenting must change if we wish to keep our relationships strong. It is critical to understand that this stage in life is when they will test boundaries as they start trying to find their voice and place.
As a parent, you have lots of influence over your teen. Helping them make better choices and overcome hardships starts with understanding that their decision-making skills are not the same as an adult. Teens will often act out on impulse instead of taking their time and thinking through the consequences. Kristina Caudle, a neuroscientist at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, says, “A growing body of evidence suggests that, in general, teens specifically struggle to keep their cool in social situations. Many crimes committed during adolescence involve emotionally fraught social situations, such as conflict.” While our teens may have a more challenging time practicing self-control, we must help guide them as much as possible in developing the skills they need to react under pressure and make healthy and informed choices.
If your teen has made a mistake and gotten caught by an authority figure, your first step should be to figure out what led them to their action. Parents, this is the time to get real. Be honest and open the door for authentic communication to happen. Making sure your teen knows that you are there and willing to listen is imperative; once you get the facts, help your teenager develop ways to learn from their mistakes rather than feel hopeless. Taking the time to listen does not mean they should not have ramifications for their actions. Setting clear consequences will help strengthen your teen’s ability to act with more awareness. However, communicating allows your teen to express themselves and will help bring understanding to what your teen is feeling.
Even if your teenager has never been caught committing any wrongdoing, it is essential to keep constant lines of communication open. Keeping open lines of communication involves making changes on how to speak to your teen. Try questions that are open-ended and nonjudgmental. Changing your tone and talking to them more maturely is essential. Also, help them understand how emotion plays a big part in decision-making and help them figure out different ways to cope. For example, figure out ways they can calm down if they are feeling angry or frustrated. Explain strategies you use to help you deal with strong emotions and ask them to start becoming more aware of the ones that work best for them. Talking about feelings and emotions gives them a language to speak and, in turn, become conscious of what they are experiencing.
Learning new ways to communicate, grow and care for your teen is the key to helping them build trust in themselves and their ability to do the right thing.
As Bob Dylan so eloquently puts it,
“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
For the times they are a-changin”
Carolina Droze is a LSIS presenter of K-5th programming, freelance writer and copywriter. She is also a mom, wife, surfer, nature enthusiast and a lover of loud music and dancing like she just don’t care.