Supporting Your Adolescent: Tips for Parents
Middle school is an exciting, yet challenging time for students, their parents and teachers. During this passage from childhood to adolescence, middle school students are characterized by a need to explore a variety of interests, connecting their learning in the classroom to its practical application in life and their work. This takes place while high levels of activity are coupled with frequent fatigue due to rapid growth. While this is occurring, the middle school child is searching for their own unique identity as they begin turning more frequently to peers rather than parents for ideas and affirmation. There is extreme sensitivity to the comments from others and there is a heavy reliance on friends to provide comfort, understanding and approval. Below are support strategies that you may find helpful with your child:
Remember your own adolescence: your changing feelings, anger at authority, and fears and hopes. Look at your adolescence’s behavior in the context if those memories to help you keep perspective.
Listen more than talk. Young people have spent at least a decade as listeners in most situations. During adolescence, they want and need the chance to share their feelings and ideas and to begin recasting family beliefs, stories, and traditions in light of their changing identity.
Use positive reinforcement for positive behavior whenever possible; it is far more effective then criticism or punishment for negative behavior. Words that belittle can hurt your adolescence’s self-esteem.
The most useful tools in raising young people are love, compassion, sensitivity, praise, understanding and communication. Teach your adolescence that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand, and give your child increasing responsibility for his or her personal well-being and that of the family.
Provide your child opportunities to help around the house and to become involved in family decision-making discussions. In doing so, seek your child’s input and help him or her to understand the process that you can use to make these decisions.
Look for situations that can allow your child to test decision-making skills with the support of caring adults. Supportive adults can help provide your child with understanding of the impact of those decisions on both your child and others. They can assist your adolescent in coping with the results of these choices.
Accept that you have feelings too. You may feel frustrated, angry, discouraged, or sad during difficult times with your adolescent. Being a good parent doesn’t mean being perfect.
Spend quality and quantity time with your adolescent. Adolescence is a time when young people naturally begin to pull away from the family and spend more time with friends. Still, time spent with caring parents is key to young people’s ability to grow emotionally and socially. Take advantage of time that your adolescent is home, over dinner or watching a ball game, to continue building your relationship.
Remember that most youth have problems at some time. Acting-out behavior can be a normal part of becoming an adult. Parents sometimes needlessly feel embarrassed when their child is having trouble. Do not assume that your child’s behavior always reflects on the quality of their parenting.
(Experts from “Supporting Your Adolescent: Tips for Parents, “Prepared by the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth August 1996)