"Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Don't always expect the worst."
This plea from a teenager can be a hard call for parents. Should you worry every moment your teenager is out of your sight or should you trust them and their judgment?
For many young people, being a teenager is about finding out who they are. It's a time of discovering things for themselves and testing the boundaries adults have set. It's a time of establishing their own style, being influenced by what's "in" and what their friends are doing, wearing and saying.
It's also a time of experimenting with adult things, particularly those that are forbidden, like alcohol, drugs and driving cars too fast. The challenge for parents is to find ways to support their teenager's independence in a way that will be safe for them.
Teenagers need boundaries -- they need to know where they stand. For instance, it's quite reasonable for parents to have a set of base line expectations around their behaviour. The difficulty can be getting them to agree to what these are.
Remember to tell your teenager why what you're asking them to do, or not do, is important for you. Then, instead of simply telling them what to do, invite them to tell you what's important for them. In this way, you can work out how you might both be able to get what you want. If you start using this approach with younger children it will not seem strange or artificial when they become teenagers.
If you find yourself having to cope with really challenging teenage behaviour, it's important to develop some strategies for managing your own reactions. For instance, it often helps to take some time out and to use the support of family members or close friends. You might also seek help from a professional, like a counsellor or your family doctor.
This gives you the chance to plan the best way of talking to your son or daughter about what's bothering you. Remember, you don't need to respond to most things right at the time they happen. If your teenager comes home at 2am it's best to discuss it the next day rather than tackle it on the spot.
It's also important to be as transparent as possible about what the consequences will be if they overstep the boundaries you have agreed. For instance, if they keep coming home at 2am they will not be able to go out for the next two Saturday nights -- or whatever the consequence is you have set.
There's no perfect way to deal with these situations -- it's a matter of identifying what works best with your teenager. Often you need to know when to be a friend, when to be a parent and when it would help to get someone else to talk to your child.
Remember, teenagers need to feel safe and to know someone will put some boundaries around them. Otherwise, there is nothing for them to kick against.
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