How to empower your teenager

Raising adolescents is undoubtedly a most challenging task. Yet, some parents experience less stress than others in mastering this parenting stage. How can you lower your stress and facilitate your youngster’s smoother transition to adulthood?

Many parents of teenagers become overwhelmed, bewildered, angry and frustrated at times, in finding the best way to guide their youngster through his/her unhappy maturation. Those emotions often mirror the turmoil that the teenager experiences as well.

A common error that parents of adolescents make is personalizing the youngster’s rude, sulking or dismissive conduct as intentionally directed at them. Though it is true that rebelliousness is one method that teens unskillfully employ in their quest for independence, most of their actions are primed by their internal turmoil that they cannot quell – not by their intent to reject you.

Adolescents often experience profound confusion, insecurity, low self-esteem and bewilderment about how to carve their mark of distinction within their peer group and in life. The desire for a solid self-identity, calmness and connectedness to others is battered by their physiological, emotional and mental upheavals that prod some to pursue numbing excessive stimulation, or, at times, to seek isolation and avoid others. 

Research documents that parents with higher self-esteem fared better in impacting their children’s behavior during these troublesome years.

Stephen Small of the University of Wisconsin found, ”Mothers with high self-esteem were more likely to provide their children with greater decision-making freedom, communicate better, be less concerned about their children’s behavior, view their children as more independent, and their adolescents were more satisfied with the amount of autonomy they were given. Fathers with higher self-esteem reported better communication with their children and were less likely to use physical forms of discipline.”

Patrick O’Malley of the University of Michigan reported that high self-esteem in adolescents was related to better mental health, more positive peer relationships and higher educational success. Other researchers found that higher self-esteem of teens was also associated with lower levels of delinquency, illegal conduct, or school absenteeism.

One way that parents can maintain their solid sense of self-esteem during their teenager’s tumultuous emotions and conduct is to NOT personalize any of the youngster’s words or actions as a true representation of them. Adults must understand that expecting reciprocity of kindness, love and interest from their distressed teenager is an unreasonable expectation of a youngster during his/her intense, long-term emotional crisis.

Empower your teenager through unexaggerated, fact laden frequent validation of his/her abilities, talents, competence and sensibilities. “I know that you will make the right decisions.” “How you helped your sister today shows what a caring person you are.”

Parents can commiserate with each other about their teenager’s attitude and conduct as they steadfastly hold to being nurturing, upholding their values and expectations and demonstrating non-condescending respect for their child.

To empower your teenager:

  • Avoid personalizing your teen’s behavior as a reflection of his/her feelings about you.
  • Provide guidance, realistic high expectations and express trust in your teenager’s capabilities.




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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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