As our kids enter their teen years, we worry and we wonder: “How will I ever survive this?” You probably don’t need me to explain why, but in case you’re in the dark, the truth is that teenhood is a difficult stage for teens and parents alike. These are the years that propel kids into adulthood, as they navigate this era of independence, self-discovery, and significant physical, mental, and emotional growth.
Being that this stage is marked with change, it doesn’t always go so smoothly. But the good news is that you can and will survive your kid’s teen years, so long as you follow a few guidelines. Here are 4 tips for staying sane and fostering a healthy relationship with your teen as they test new waters:
1. Don’t take it personally.
Whatever it is, don’t take it personally. Your teen will say mean or otherwise offensive things. But not because they truly think you’re “the worst mom in the world” or “meanest dad ever.” Instead, because they’re frustrated.
This developmental stage is all about teens figuring things out for and by themselves. Your rules get in the way of that. So, when your teen criticizes you, don’t take it personally; rather, embrace the criticism. The more you allow your child to express their critical feelings about you, the easier it’ll be for them to surge forward with their own life.
2. Take an interest in their interests.
Another important guideline is to take up your teen’s interests. Or, at the very least, accept and support their interests. Plan your time together around what you know they like to do. Do they enjoy playing basketball or maybe tennis? Do they have a knack for baking cakes or finding river trails? Whatever it is they enjoy doing, make it known that you care and you want to know more!
Your teen will appreciate your effort to understand them. And hey, if you find a hobby in it too, they’ll think your shared love for running or cooking or playing Fortnite is super cool. Not to mention, you’ll have something that you both enjoy doing together.
3. Show them you can relate.
Your teen views you first and foremost as their parent—as an adult who couldn’t possibly relate to what they’re going through. They often forget or neglect the fact that you were their age once, that you’ve had similar experiences, similar thoughts and feelings. Remind them.
Whenever your teen is struggling, put yourself in their shoes and remember what it was like: what it was like to suffer a teenage heartbreak, to have no friends in your lunch block, to get cut from the team. Channel those forgotten feelings and recall a similar experience from your teenage years in talking with your teen. They’ll quickly see that you do get it and that you have valuable insight to offer.
4. Display unconditional love.
Building off of the first point, you should show your teen unconditional love… even when they’re being critical or just plain mean. They might mumble an “I hate you” at some point or another, but you shouldn’t hate or even communicate that you hate them back.
Resist the urge to say hateful or hurtful words in response. Additionally, don’t let the pain you feel fester and become actions that hurt your teen and your relationship with them. For example, when they come to apologize and give you a hug, do not turn them away. Instead, embrace your teen and say I love you. They don’t actually hate you and they never meant to hurt you.
Parenthood in itself is difficult, as each year brings with it a new set of challenges. That said, the teen years are particularly tough, in that your teen tests new waters as he or she grows—physically, mentally, and emotionally—into him or herself. Fortunately, if you use this guide, you’ll survive these years of evolution and even manage to nurture a positive relationship with your teen. What’s your favorite hack for surviving this milestone?
AJ Centore is the founder and CEO of Thriveworks, a counseling practice with more than 70 locations across the USA, focused on providing clients exceptional care. Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks and publishes mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. They are both devoted to distributing important information related to mental health and wellbeing.