Raising a happy teen. It’s what we all want, right?
The teenage years are often the most feared of any parenting stage (often for good reason). Your once cute, cuddly child, previously so willing to climb into your lap and share everything (and we mean everything) with you, is suddenly pulling away. As your child moves into their teen years, it’s important to remember that ‘happiness’ and ‘teenagers’ can go together.
It can be difficult for parents to acknowledge their babies are growing up. Despite the exhaustion of the 2am feeds, the stress of the two-year-old tantrums, and the ‘I’ll-never-leave-the-house-again’ road of toilet training, the teenage years are often the most feared of any parenting stage. However, not every teenager is the sulky, parent-hating monster you’re led to believe!
With honest hearts and an intense curiosity, the teenage years can become some of the most enjoyable and rewarding. There are four fundamentals you can do to ensure you are there for your teen, nurturing their happiness.
Feed your teen
It sounds basic, but for teenagers a lot can be solved with food. They are growing and are hungry more often. Nutritious, wholesome food is a wonderful way of appeasing a grumpy teen, but it is so much more than that.
Sharing a family meal can create a valuable opportunity to talk. The dinner table is a wonderful place where teens can feel like they are a validated member of the team and can be heard. Teenagers crave approval, so it is just as important to feed their confidence and individuality as it is their belly. Nurture their self-esteem, feed their moral compass and this in turn will help grow their resilience.
If you build a strong, positive relationship with your youngster and treat them with respect, the result will be a resilient happy teenager who will trust that you are on their side.
A complex mix of adult and child, teenagers crave real life experiences. Give them the space to ‘play’ with a reasonable set of agreed expectations, and they will be happy, feeling in control of their lives within a safe arena. This avoids the requirement to set too many rules and instead fosters trust and responsibility.
As parents and caregivers, you need to ensure their decisions don’t place them in a dangerous situation, but if you can say ‘Yes’ sometimes. Being a voice of kindness in a world that can sometimes be rough means your teen will more likely come to you when they have a problem. Being strict for no valid reason will simply breed resentment. Teenagers are sticklers for things being fair and just!
Don’t forget that your fledgling grown-up will need room for contradiction and mistakes. Allow them to be aware of your caution, but do not become a barrier for them from life’s consequences. Keep them informed and educated, with the lines of communication open, but do not dictate and enforce. Teenagers need to feel they have the freedom to make their own choices, even if you disagree with those choices, so let them have as much scope as you can.
Listen to them
The best thing you can do with your teenager is to listen. If they open up to you, put down the phone, stop cooking, be empathetic and give your complete attention.
Give them the chance to talk and seek to understand their view without imposing your opinions. Once they feel heard and understood, they may be willing to listen to your guidance. If you can be in their corner and see life through their eyes, you will automatically be closer.
Try to avoid always being ‘right’, (never say, ‘I told you so!’) as this will only cause a power struggle. Instead, give your teen the tools to grow a positive relationship with you. Studies show that quantity of time with parents plays a huge part in the teenage years.
More than anything else, teenagers just need to be loved unconditionally. They are desperate to fit in, they feel awkward and insecure, and regularly need to hear, ‘I love you just the way you are’.
In telling your teen you love them, you will bring out their best behaviour and inspire them to improve. Accept them, their mistakes and their individuality, and never judge or criticise your teen.
Remember, they are learning and experimenting, and sometimes they need the space to work it out for themselves. You can’t change them and shouldn’t want to. Just be there to support them as they try to find their place in the world. We were all teens once too.
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