Thoughtful Parenting: Adolescence and beyond

Clarice Atkinson/For Steamboat Today

This is an exciting time of year when we watch the youth in our community transition from high school graduates into young adulthood. My friend, Chris, told me that, as she was driving away from dropping her oldest child off at college, she felt as though a tether was attached to her, drawing her back to her son. She thought, if only she could get as far as the mountains, the temptation to turn around and bring him back to the safety of home would pass. It hasn’t.

Whether their teen decides to attend college, technical school or explore the job market, parents often wonder if they have done enough to prepare their youth for all that lies ahead. This is a common concern for parents of teenagers as they realize their amazing, unpredictable, brilliant, moody teens are going to be responsible for making their own decisions before long. Balancing the need to protect your teens with preparing them for adulthood may feel like a contradiction of goals.

The natural progression into adulthood is for teens to establish their individual identities outside the family and their parents. This is an adolescent’s developmental “job.” Though this transition can be quite annoying and even feel like a personal attack against mom and dad, it is a necessary part of growing up.

It is imperative that parents establish clear guidelines and expectations for their teens’ behavior and monitor and guide their teens’ activities. This is far easier said than done with an adolescents, who yearn desperately to have their own opinions and to have control over what they feel is their destiny.

One of the keys to successfully balancing these contradictory ideas is to allow your teen to have a voice in making the rules, consequences and rewards. Giving teens the opportunity to have input gives parents a subtle, yet powerful, way to influence their teen’s decision making and choices.

Influencing teens can be accomplished, in part, through understanding teen development and what developmental goals teens are trying achieve through their behavior and actions. This understanding helps enable parents to effectively negotiate with teens while maintaining parental authority. Though the concept of negotiating with your teen may feel uncomfortable, it is an excellent way to allow your teen to practice healthy decision making. Though teens may not have the final word, being given the opportunity to be heard is important.

Family meetings are a tool that can be used to get the entire family involved in decision making. In order for teens to make healthy choices, they need to have a clear understanding of what is expected. Family meetings provide a forum to discuss rules and rewards and to negotiate. They help set the stage for behavioral expectations of younger siblings and are an opportunity for parents to model decision making and problem solving. Family meetings can also serve as valuable family time in which family members can simply connect with one another. After all, we cannot expect to have an influence on our teens if we do not even know them.

An Active Parenting Class for parents of tweens and teens begins September 30. This is an interactive seven-week group that will help you understand your teen better, have more influence on your teens’ decision making and choices, communicate better with your teen and network with other parents. Please join us if you would like to explore solutions to the challenges of preparing your teen to confidently transition into this great big world. For more information, call Laura Cannone at 970-819-6142.

Clarice Atkinson is lead case manager for Partners in Routt County

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