The staff of the Employee Assistance Program spend their workdays helping public employees find solutions to a variety of issues. On this page, members of the EAP staff and other contributors from a variety of disciplines and experience contribute short articles intended to shed light on some of the human dilemmas we all face.
Richard's Ten Rules for Parenting Teens
Read this month's article below, or select an article from a list of previous submissions on a variety of topics.
Having parented three teens, who have embraced life in a good way, I want to challenge other parents to not only support their teens in their personal growth and development, but to create and cultivate an enjoyable relationship with them. Here are some personal tips that worked for me and may give you an idea or two.
I love and respect my children as people. I don’t let labels or categories like “adolescent” or “teen” rob them of my regard for them as the wonderful, unique individuals they are. My approach isn’t one of “enduring them”, as in “I have to deal with these little pains that get in the way of my life.” Instead, I try to enter their world with the intention of preparing them for the world they live in - regardless the amount of time it takes or how old they are. Sometimes I’m rejected, but I try to not take it personally. When I’m appreciated, it’s icing on the cake. I always try to remember that my job as a parent is be the parent and not to use my child to make me feel better or to meet my emotional needs (which is a role reversal; it isn’t parenting and it damages their emotional development.)
As hard as it is, I try to not let myself get pulled into my teens’ emotional highs or lows. I try to recognize when I do and not react by yelling back at them, which inevitably puts them in that dazed, flooded look where neither of us can think straight or respond with respect. When I blow it and make a mistake - with my kids, my wife, or in life - I think it’s important to admit it. They respect me more and we all learn from it.
I make opportunities for “hang time.” I enjoy cultivating my teens’ friendship by doing things with them that they enjoy and, ideally, that I enjoy too. Hang time usually doesn’t involve having to discipline, lecture, motivate, direct or persuade.
It’s not all friendship. There are times when I need to step up and be the parent. (It’s normal to have a hard time trying to balance between being a parent and being a friend.) As a parent, for example, I set the expectation that if they don’t play within the boundaries of the “basketball court of home” or in the “field of life,” I must intervene (and expect resistance when I do). To not intervene is what Edwin Friedman calls “a failure of nerve” - meaning, I avoid or put off what I need to do for their own good. Therefore, I address it head on knowing these experiences help form their characters and values.
I try to empower them to take responsibility for making healthy choices in what they’re facing. That may mean holding them accountable or letting them struggle. I let them experience the natural and logical consequences of their choices - negative or positive. If they aren’t allowed to experience the consequences of their choices, they’ll never grow, or their growth will be delayed.
It’s important to let teens experience happiness and joy. However, it’s as important to their emotional development to let them experience rejection, sadness and disappointment. Without rescuing them or trying to make them feel better with platitudes, I try to help them understand that what they are going through is a natural response to hurt, loss and rejection.
Outside of providing the necessary life essentials and giving them gifts appropriately, I want my teens to experience the rewards of hard work rather than hold the entitlement thinking of getting something for nothing.
For every discipline, correction, or constructive criticism I add three genuine affirmations, encouragements, or feedback on who they are and what they did well - they know when it’s not genuine. The formula I use is, “stroke, stroke, stroke, poke.”
I keep telling my kids “no matter how bad it is, come to me. I don’t care what it is; I’m here to help you make it in life, so use me.”
Finally, have a sense of humor. With your teen for “hang time” and for pure humor (and really nothing more), watch the Canadian comic, Red Green, who sometimes has his own parenting tips. Green ends his program with the encouragement that I leave with you, “Keep your heads up. We’re all in this together. I’m pulling for you.”
An EA Professional from the Olympia office who has been down the road of parenting.