Parents of teenagers: Stay involved without being bossy

Parents of teenagers: Stay involved without being bossy

Image: Sanjay Goswami

Adolescence can be a tough time on both teenagers and their parents. As children grapple with growing up, they experience all kinds of pressures emotionally and physically that can lead to behavioural and mental upsets. Meanwhile, many parents are often at a loss for how to handle their maturing children’s aloofness. They often get less involved in their activities for lack of knowledge on how to connect with them.

Now a study has shown that involved and adaptable parents can work with their teens for a smoother transition into maturity. The recent research that focused on middle- and high-school children pointed out ways in which parents of teenagers can adapt to meet their children’s evolving needs and remain involved in their lives. The key is respecting a teenager’s independence while also supporting them and giving them guidance.

“The good news is that youth still want their parents to be involved,” says Harvard University Professor Nancy Hill, one of the study’s co-authors. “This involvement doesn’t have to be a power struggle. Parents need not be afraid to allow teens to try and succeed or try, fail and try again. Parents are in the single-best position to cultivate, encourage and affirm their teen’s development.”

The researchers revealed the types of involvement that were linked to increased academic performance, decreased behavioral concerns and reduced depressive symptoms in the teenagers. Some of these were:

Encouraging independence within boundaries: Hill says that this means “letting teens try out things independently, with a ‘safety net’.” They recommend letting teens try and even fail at new activities. Not offering help until it is asked for, and allowing them to make their own informed decisions. Hill recommends thinking carefully before offering support. She says, “When parents jump in and micromanage homework because they are frustrated, it is probably not helpful and may be counterproductive. If they are helping because the teen asks for it or agrees they need help, then it can be highly effective.”

Give them the tools but let them do the work: Parents should provide their teenagers with all they need to manage their academic lives but leave it up to them to handle it themselves. Expectations should be set, but give your children the chance to work it out by themselves. Hill says, “It is not easy to watch — or let — your son or daughter fail to complete assignments or not earn grades that you know they are fully capable of earning. If you can stomach it, let them wait until the last minute to do the big assignment and don’t jump in and rescue them until they ask. Yes, it is hard. But, in the process, they might learn the bigger lessons about the consequences of their actions and how to recognize when they need help.”

Show love: All children benefit from a warm and supportive relationship with their parents. Maintaining a warm relationship can help bolster other positive parenting approaches as well. This is true even when it seems that your teenager is drifting further away from you. Hill says, “It does not mean that they don’t want and crave their parents’ acceptance of their identities and interests. One of my colleagues said that parenting teens is like hugging a cactus. Even as the ‘warm fuzzies’ are not often reciprocated, teens still need them; they still need to know they are loved unconditionally. Don’t miss the opportunity to say or show love, warmth and affection toward even your most prickly teen.”

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