You have imparted all of your words of wisdom on your child over the years. You have shared your personal failures and examples of poor choices — at least the PG-13 version of them — and shown how you grew and learned from them. You have spent every day of your teenager’s life molding, shaping, and guiding him (or her) into the capable young adult he has become. He knows right from wrong, good from bad, and the difference between a real friend and a user. But still, he has been making some really poor choices lately. How can a parent bring a teenager back on track without resorting to placing him on a parent-imposed house arrest until his 21st birthday.
Many parents have a tendency to think of teenagers as younger versions of adults. We think they should be able to make wise decisions and clearly see the consequences of the choices they make just because we have told them how it is. The problem is that they are not adults yet and making some poor decisions is part of the process of learning and growing into adulthood.
When teenagers make poor choices, parents must take charge of the situation. This means establishing high standards and letting kids know exactly what is expected and what won’t be tolerated in the home. It helps to think these things through ahead of time and have a clear set of expectations and consequences for not meeting them. Ideally, the conversation about these expectations has happened long before a problem arises, but it is never too late to do it. Teenagers don’t need another friend in the home. They need a parent who sets limits and guidelines in order to help them establish their own boundaries for living as they mature.
Knowing your teen’s peer group and making them an ally can help. Friends have a big impact on adolescent social decisions. Making your home the one where friends feel comfortable and want to hang out can be beneficial. Don’t hover, but be around. Your presence may be the quiet force needed to open the lines of communication. While friends are extremely important in a teenager’s life, recent research shows that parents still have more influence on teens than peers. They are listening to you even when they are acting like they aren’t.
Being really present in your teenager’s life is still the most effective way to help your child make better choices and stop making poor choices that have already been made. Teens are extremely adept at recognizing phoniness, disinterest, or a lesson in disguise. One of the quickest ways to make a teenager stop talking is to respond with a lecture or a personal story that has a hidden lesson behind it.
Really listen to what they have to say and let them talk when they are willing. Just being around and being available sets the stage for this to happen more naturally. Use television shows, song lyrics, and news stories as conversation starters and teachable moments. Let your teen question you about your opinion on situations or “what would you do if…” topics. Allowing them to think through and express their opinions and beliefs will help them make the right choices when real-life situations arise.
Teens are going to make some poor choices. It is part of growing up. A parent’s job is to provide unconditional love with a strong set of guidelines along the way.