As our children enter the adolescent years, they undergo significant changes mentally, emotionally, and physically. This transition from childhood can often leave parents feeling uncertain about how to navigate this new phase of parenting. Every person is different, and it’s hard to face the fact that your own experiences as a teen don’t necessarily prepare you for raising one.
There are many effective strategies and practical dos and don’ts for parenting teens based on the self-determination theory. Developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, this theory emphasizes the importance of satisfying three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. By understanding these needs and incorporating them into our parenting approach, we can foster healthy development and strong relationships with our teens.
Throughout this guide, we will delve into the intricacies of understanding teenagers, including their unique developmental stage and the fundamental psychological needs they possess. We’ll explore the role of parents in fulfilling these needs and discuss how to strike a balance between facilitating independence and providing guidance.
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Adolescence, which typically spans from ages 10 to 19, is characterized by a whirlwind of growth and changes—physical, cognitive, emotional, and social. This phase is marked by the formation of personal identity and independence, the pursuit of social connections, and an increased capacity for abstract thought and problem-solving.
So, if you are wondering why do teens hate their parents, you have to understand that the teenage years are not simply a challenging phase to tide over; they are an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. Teens are craving autonomy, developing their own values and beliefs separate from their parents, exploring romantic relationships, and tentatively stepping into the adult world. As parents, understanding these transitional dynamics can put us in a better position to provide the support they need during these tumultuous years.
According to the self-determination theory, throughout adolescence, teenagers have three fundamental psychological needs: Autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When these needs are satisfied, teenagers can achieve optimal function and growth, as well as the ability for self-determination.
To further our understanding, let’s define those terms.
- Autonomy pertains to the need for a sense of personal control and freedom of choice. During the teenage years, this need commonly manifests through a strong desire for independence.
- Competence involves the need to feel capable and effective with the skills we develop and the activities we pursue. For teens, this often translates into a need for academic, athletic, or social confidence and success.
- Relatedness refers to the need to feel connected and significant to others. As teens develop, they start to place greater importance on their peer relationships. It’s not uncommon for teens to seek out time with others rather than connect with family.
Even as our teenagers push for greater independence, we as parents of teens often play a pivotal role in helping them meet their psychological needs. Our job is to navigate the delicate balance of granting them the autonomy they desire while still providing the structure, guidance, and support they require. To do so, we need to foster open communication, encourage their pursuits, provide appropriate challenges, and still maintain a secure and loving environment where they feel validated and understood.
Remember, parenting teens is not about controlling them, but about empowering them and preparing them for adulthood. By understanding what motivates them and responding to their psychological needs, we can guide them toward becoming resilient, self-determined individuals.
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No two teens are exactly alike, so it’s difficult to create a one-size-fits-all guide for how to parent one. That said, there are a few dos and don’ts parents can try to more effectively and compassionately help their teens grow.
- Facilitate Independence: Teenagers thrive on autonomy, and while it’s essential to set boundaries and rules, it’s equally important to provide them with opportunities to make their own decisions. Whether it’s about choosing their own clothes or selecting their academic courses, respect their decisions and support their journey toward becoming autonomous individuals.
- Encourage Open Communication: Fostering a climate where teens feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and feelings is crucial. Make time for regular conversations, listen empathetically, and respond without judging. This will not only strengthen your bond with them but also provide invaluable insights into their lives.
- Nurture Intrinsic Motivation: Rather than using rewards or punishments as motivation, encourage your teenagers to undertake tasks for the inherent satisfaction they provide. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a job well done, after all. This will help them develop self-initiated behaviors, long-term goals, and resilience.
- Promote Problem-Solving Skills: Help your teens develop their problem-solving abilities by allowing them to confront their own challenges. Guide them in exploring possible solutions, weighing their pros and cons, and making informed decisions. Ultimately, though, the onus should be on them to solve the problem, as well as understand the consequences of the actions they take.
- Avoiding Excessive Control: While it may be tempting to oversee every aspect of your teen’s life, this attitude can quickly lead to resentment and rebellion. Striking a balance between supervision and freedom is key to fostering healthy parent-teen relationships.
- Avoiding Implicit Disapproval: Avoid using phrases or actions that might imply disapproval of your teen’s individuality. This can lead to declines in self-esteem, intrinsic motivation, and overall well-being. It’s crucial to understand that your child is their own person, so getting upset with who that person is won’t benefit anyone.
- Avoiding Comparisons with Others: Try not to compare your teen with their siblings or other teenagers. These negative comparisons can erode their self-esteem and motivation, while positive comparisons can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed at the sky-high expectations they feel you’ve set for them. The bottom line is that your teen shouldn’t feel as if they’re in perpetual competition with others.
- Avoiding Neglect of Emotional Well-Being: As parents, supporting your teen’s emotional well-being is essential. Be aware of signs of stress, anxiety, or depression, and ensure your teen feels comfortable discussing these issues with you. Mental health issues are extremely common among teens, so cultivating a safe environment to talk about problems is key.
Self-determination theory is key to successfully parenting a teen. However, just reading about it on the page can make it difficult to visualize exactly how you can implement its tenants into your parenting style. Here’s a quick breakdown of the kinds of things you can do to foster the development of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in your teen.
Promote autonomy by involving your teen in decision-making processes, acknowledging their feelings, and offering non-intrusive, informational feedback. Help them feel like their choices matter and that they have a voice in your home. A house shouldn’t be run like a dictatorship, after all.
Encourage competence by providing optimal challenges, constructive feedback, and the resources necessary for your teen to develop and enhance their skills. While doing so, remember that competence does not necessarily mean excellence right from the start. It’s important to remind your child that failure is a learning opportunity, not the end of the world.
Foster relatedness by developing a warm relationship with your teenager, showing affection, and empathizing with their experiences. Parents cannot solely be authority figures; they also need to be someone a child can trust. Creating a good relationship with your teen ensures that they come to you for help when they’re facing serious challenges, as well as teaches them how to better relate to others as they form more connections.
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Effective communication is one of the most important skills for a parent to have. Communicating effectively with your teenager can be decidedly tricky but critical in cultivating a healthy relationship. Learning to talk out your differences can avoid a collection of problems you might face with your teen.
Here are some tips to be better at communication in ways your teen is likely to respond to:
- Use “I” Statements: Instead of starting sentences with ‘you’, which can often sound accusatory and make your teenager defensive, use ‘I’ statements. Express how their actions made you feel rather than how ‘wrong’ their actions were.
- Be Non-Judgmental: Teenagers will face various challenges and make mistakes as they grow. It is best to be accepting, open-minded, and non-judgmental when they share their experiences.
- Understand and Respect Their Perspective: While you may not always agree with your teenager, understanding their point of view and showing respect for their opinions can build mutual respect.
- Keep Discussions Regular: Regular dialogue can maintain the lines of communication. Whether it is over a meal, a car ride, or a casual walk, use everyday situations to engage in conversations with your teen.
- Remember, Silence is OK: Sometimes, your teen may not want to talk, and that’s okay. Give them the space they need, but let them know you’re available when they need you.
These strategies can improve your ability to communicate with your teenager, leading to better mutual understanding and a stronger relationship.
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It’s natural to want to do right by your kids, but it’s important to remember that no one is a perfect parent, especially right from the start. It’s easy for us to absorb bad habits and poor behaviors that we take with us while parenting.
Breaking bad parenting habits isn’t easy, but it’s crucial for the development and well-being of your teen. Some common habits to break include:
- Overreacting: It’s normal to feel frustrated or overwhelmed when conflicts arise, but reacting impulsively will only escalate the situation. Strive to stay calm and composed even when tensions run high. This doesn’t mean suppressing your emotions but rather expressing them in a controlled and constructive manner.
- Failing to Acknowledge Achievements: Sometimes, parents focus too much on what needs improvement and overlook their teenager’s achievements, however small they may be. Make it a habit to acknowledge your teen’s accomplishments. This will boost their confidence and encourage them to put in more effort.
- Not Respecting Privacy: As your child enters their teenage years, their need for privacy increases. It’s necessary to respect their personal boundaries in order to cultivate a good relationship with your teen that ensures everyone is respected. While it’s important to supervise and guide them, barging into their room and going through their things is an easy way to break their trust.
- Using Love as a Bargaining Chip: Love and affection should not be used as rewards or withdrawn as punishment. Your love for your teen should be unconditional, not contingent on their behavior or performance. Expressing emotions like disappointment at poor behavior is one thing, but you should never make your child feel like they need to earn your affection.
- Setting Unreachable Standards: Teens are still learning and experimenting, and they’re bound to make mistakes. Setting unreachable standards and expecting perfection can demoralize them, hamper their self-esteem, and stifle their creativity and willingness to try new things. While we all see our children as having limitless potential, the fact of the matter is that putting too much pressure on a teen will only serve to limit that potential rather than motivate them to reach it.
Remember, habits take time to break. The journey towards becoming a better parent involves patience, practice, and a lot of self-reflection. That’s also why it’s necessary to be proactive and adjust your parenting as needed, as sticking too rigidly to old ideas and refusing to change is how bad habits form in the first place.
Parenting teens can indeed be a challenging job, but by understanding their psychology, nurturing their intrinsic motivation, and implementing self-determination theory principles, you could turn these challenging years into ones of growth and self-discovery for both parents and teens. Remember, parenting is not about control, but about guidance and support, so putting your teen first in your approach to raising them is always the right call.
Knowing how daunting parenting teens can be, it’s not unusual for someone to feel they need assistance. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help or support groups if you’re finding it difficult to deal with certain situations. We invite you to explore our parenting programs and join our parenting community on the Parents App. While there, you can find support, guidance, and advice from experts and fellow parents of teens. You can find more information about our FREE programs here. Enroll in one of our free masterclasses, making it easier to navigate the most challenging yet rewarding job of your life.
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Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2002). Overview of self-determination theory: An organismic-dialectical perspective. In E. L. Deci & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 3–33). University of Rochester Press.
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