Adolescents: advice for parents

Adolescence, the period between childhood and adulthood, is often a difficult time, for parents and their children.

This is when young people establish an identity of their own, separate themselves from their parents, and create significant relationships outside their own families.

Many parents experience ‘mourning’ for this loss of their child as they adjust to the moody, obstinate person who has taken his or her place. Teenagers may also be mourning the loss of their own childhood and family relationships of earlier years.

It is important to keep the situation in perspective. Adolescence is an essential rite of passage which every adult has been through. Think back to your own teenage years. How did you rebel? What were your clothes like? Did your parents complain about the music you listened to? In short, were your experiences, attitudes, and relationships really that much different from what's taking place with your own adolescent?

Parents' major task is to let teenagers grow up and become independent, learning to make the decisions that affect their own lives.

Limits need to be set, but within those boundaries there must be room for adolescents to spread their wings and get a sense of who they are and who they want to become. They will reject some excellent advice along the way — but that's part of growing up. Fortunately, many of the values parents instilled prior to adolescence will survive.

Some basic rules for parents

These rules may help minimise the inevitable stresses that occur as teenagers assert themselves.

  • Always listen, even when you're on different sides of the fence.
  • Don't confuse the thing that bothers you with the person who has done it. At times you'll feel annoyed and angry by your teenager's behaviour. Every parent does. It doesn't mean you've stopped loving your youngster. It probably means exactly the opposite — that you care. Keep your anger focused on their actions, not on them as human beings.
  • Avoid constant criticism, however much teenagers' behaviour or appearance annoys you. Ignore insignificant incidents. With bigger issues let them know that although you disagree, you respect their right to hold a different opinion. Look for opportunities to pay honest compliments.
  • Take an interest in what your teenager is doing. When disagreements arise, try to find a compromise that both sides can accept. At worst, you should agree to disagree.
  • Don't preach and don't nag. Be careful about saying things like: ‘When I was your age ...’. You probably had more in common with your teenager than you'd care to admit.
  • Expect to become the target of blame — the one responsible for all their difficulties, not letting them grow up and have fun.
  • Don't take most of this criticism to heart. And don't give up on your teenager. Teenagers are watching, listening, and learning more than you may think.

Mood swings are quite common at this age, partly due to hormonal changes but also in response to the worries so common during this time of life.

By late adolescence most teenagers feel much more comfortable spending time with their parents. If you've treated them fairly and consistently, and given them room to grow, they will leave adolescence and enter adulthood with family ties intact.

Last Reviewed: 21 December 2012
Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.

Online doctor

Need health advice right now?See an Australian-registered doctor on your phone

References

1. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Tips for parents: adolescents (updated Aug 2010). http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/mental-pubs-t-tipsadol (accessed Mar 2013).
2. MayoClinic.com. Parenting skills: tips for raising teens (updated 19 Feb 2011). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/parenting-tips-for-teens/MY00481 (accessed Mar 2013).
3. Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Centre for Adolescent Health. Parenting adolescents (updated 12 Dec 2012). http://www.rch.org.au/cah/research/Parenting_Adolescents/# (accessed Mar 2013).
Dr Michael Jones

Dr Michael Jones

Medical Editor, Your Doctor.