I deeply love my teenage son.  I am also often enraged by my teenage son.

The teenage years are challenging for both parents and teens.  What does a parent do when their young teen, I’m referring to those particularly age 15 – 17, is making choices that are negatively impacting their lives both at home and at school?

I spoke to Alyson Jones to find out what she advises her clients when the situation has become challenging enough to reach out for help.

Q.  What should parents do to examine their own ‘triggers’ in the situation?  How do parents avoid taking things too personally ie:  an attack on their authority?

A.  You have to have a bit of distance to do your job to guide your child.  If you were the boss at work, how would you respond to that difficult employee?  Our children evoke the most intense emotions and we sometimes find ourselves riding that emotional rollercoaster with our teen.  It’s important to try NOT to do that.  There is so much neuro-biology happening with teens.  This is NOT an adult brain.  The teen brain is still developing and although the teen may sound rational, their impulse control, management and regulation of emotion is still being developed.  Your job is to guide and provide structure and to NOT get emotionally involved when your teen is pumped up.

Q.  How do parents identify what their role is in the negative interactions with their teens?

A.   Be aware of your own emotions.   That’s not to say be completely dispassionate, but when the blood is boiling, your hands and jaw are clenching, be aware of your own emotional reactivity.  Parenting teens pushes us to our own growth.  We have an opportunity to examine, “where are my blinders, what am I missing?”  Allow yourself to take a step back until the anger dissipates.  Remember to ground yourself first.  When you take some time to cool off before engaging in a difficult conversation, that models for your teen the importance of taking time to consider good decisions.

Q.  How do we involve them in choices so that they feel empowered and not controlled?

A.  Parents need to be transparent with their own powerlessness.  What I mean by that is not that the parent is powerless, but letting teen know that when they’re out there in the world they are going to make their own choices.   As a parent, you can’t control it anyway.  It’s important to be in the LEAD, not controlling.  Ensuring that you outline what is is best, what is allowable in your own home is key.   Ensure that you provide content of what you want them to learn and then provide them some opportunity to make choices within that framework.

It’s important to remember that your teen does actually want to please you, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

Q.  How do parents of teens find ways to connect with their teens that are relevant to the teen?  How do you nurture communication with an uncommunicative teen?

A.  If they’re not putting it all out there, sometimes it’s following parent intuition.  Having a sense of their parent knowing them is important.   You don’t always ask a lot of questions…say you understand “I understand the pressure you’re under with your friends etc.” , and if you’re wrong, they’ll be happy to correct you.   If you hit it on target you nurture empathy, if you hit it wrong they may correct you and provide further information.   Learn to ‘hold onto yourself’ – if you don’t get it right you can just say, thank you for letting me know I don’t have that right.  Let them know you’re paying attention.

Q.  Sometimes parents lose it, or make decisions that we ourselves question later.  When is it appropriate to apologize to your teen?

A.   Be very careful what you’re apologizing for.   It’s best not to get highly apologetic, don’t beg their approval as you’ll lose your leadership role.   But when there’s something to make it right, make it right.   You have to be cautious about handing them the power.   If you feel it’s appropriate to express an apology, be sure that while apologizing keep you keep your balance.   Maintain your leadership.

Maintain your dignity – both yours and your teen’s dignity is important.

Find time for self-care.   Looking after yourself leads to better self-awareness so you don’t lose your ‘self’ in the middle of the challenging moments.

We have to anticipate that there are going to be challenges during the teen years.  Demonstrate to your teen that your relationship with them is strong enough and resilient enough to bounce back from the challenges.