Teens crave independence as much as the respect and support of their parents.
Your pediatrician can help parents jumpstart difficult conversations with their teens.
How can parents best help their children through the very important—and difficult—teenage years? We sat down with board-certified pediatrician, Reema Basu, MD of St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group, to discuss the unique issues that adolescents face. She shared guidelines and tips for helping parents and their children maintain a strong bond and supportive, respectful relationship throughout these formative years.
Tips to help parents prepare for the teen years
“When couples welcome a newborn into their home, there is a lot of planning and preparation that happens in advance. Think about approaching the teenage years as a sort of rebirth for your child and plan ahead for their important transition into young adults,” says Dr. Basu. “The number one thing parents of teenagers should remember—and remember to encourage—is their strong desire for independence. Helping teens become more independent in a safe and supportive way can help them become successful adults.”
Effective parenting tips for parents of teenagers
Today, moms and dads have so much parenting information at their fingertips between online and offline resources. However, parents should also consider partnering with their family's pediatrician for knowledgeable and professional advice. They can help guide you through difficult situations, conversations or stages. Here are a few tips:
- State the obvious: Express your love
As much as teenagers yearn for independence and the ability to make choices without their parents' input, they also want to be understood, supported and loved. Share your love and respect through family meals, scheduled and purposeful family time or simply being in the same space together.
- Set boundaries that develop responsibility
It is important to remember that you can love your teen unconditionally and set reasonable boundaries to keep them safe. This is particularly important when it comes to social media and socializing with friends. It’s okay to know the sites their visiting and who they are spending time with. It’s also okay to let your teen experience natural consequences help them understand how to solve problems and learn that they are resilient and capable.
- Lead by example
Children and teenagers learn by example. Show your teen how to cope with stress in a positive way and be resilient. If you are a good role model, your teen will most likely follow your lead.
Effective communication tips for difficult conversations
The teenage years are a period of rapid physical and emotional growth and it can be very confusing for both the teens and their parents. During this time it is natural for teens to put distance between themselves and their family, so it is essential for parents to keep the lines of communication open.
“If you are having difficulty bringing up a challenging or uncomfortable topic, try leading with something easier. You can ask about their interests, a hobby, their favorite sport or music to get them talking,” says Dr. Basu. “Once the conversation is flowing, I recommend starting with small observations like: ‘You seem sad lately, do you want to talk about it?’, or ‘Are there any physical or emotional changes you have questions about?’. You will not always get the answers you’re hoping for, so it’s important to keep that in mind. It will help you to stay calm and respond with love and respect. You can also approach these conversations during your child’s annual physical with your pediatrician. They can help start these conversations in a non-threatening environment.”
While it is normal for teenagers to distance themselves from loved ones, parents should be watchful for any drastic changes in behavior that lasts more than a few days. Potential red flags for parents might be a socially active teenager that is suddenly spending all day in their room or a physically active teenager that is avoiding a sport they used to love. Psychiatric disorders typically appear during adolescence, so it is often important for teens to have a HEADSS assessment to help the pediatrician put their life experiences and behaviors into context.
Understanding the teenage HEADSS assessment
The HEADSS assessment is a developmentally appropriate psychological history that pediatricians give adolescents and tweens. The HEADSS (Home, Education/employment, peer group Activities, Drugs, Sexuality and Suicide/depression) method facilitates open communication and creates a respectful, sympathetic, trusting and confidential environment between the adolescent and physician. These one-on-one assessments are extremely important in helping the adolescent establish a sense of trust with their doctor. It is an opportunity for the teen to bring up any concerns they may be hesitant to discuss with their parents.
“We always tell our teens and pre-teens that anything we talk about stays between us—unless we believe they are in any kind of danger. Most parents and teenagers are comfortable with this and I’ve found that one-on-one, confidential communication allows the teen to be more upfront about their health concerns and more open to learning how to manage their own health as well,” says Dr. Basu.
Raising happy, healthy teenagers is possible with a little preparation and a lot of support, encouragement, respect, and love. Try to keep your own teenage experiences top of mind so you can help your teen through the rapid physical and emotional changes of adolescence.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.