Jeremy Edge, LPC
Empowered Parenting: Helping Teens Make Healthy Choices and Improving Relationships With Parents
Parenting is hard. We feel pressure from society, friends, and internally to raise positive, healthy people. Many times, we parent how we were parented. Like it or not, we use many of the same principles we were exposed to as kids.
A common challenge I see with parents I work with revolves around empowering their teen. Parents see a behavioral or character problem with their kiddo and they focus on controlling and changing them. The problem has to be eradicated by any means necessary because if it continues, more problems will occur.
The parent-child relationship then becomes stressed and at times, broken. Rather than maintaining a positive relationship with their teen, parents can fall into a “fix it” mentality and only focus on alleviating the problems they see in their kids at the expense of a healthy parent-child relationship.
While it’s important to address issues and problems with our teens, it’s also equally important to maintain a positive relationship with them. It’s natural for teens and parents to not have a perfect relationship, but the teenage years is when they need more support than ever. They are learning more about themselves than ever before, testing boundaries and pushing limits. It’s important for parents to support their teen during this stage of their life.
Parents can support their teen by empowering them. Empowering your teen gives them the reassurance they can handle life’s challenges. It communicates, “You got this!” and “I believe in you.” Empowering your teen gives them the tools to make healthy choices for their own sake rather than just to please others.
Here are some ways to empower your teenager.
If you got 23 positive and two negative comments in a social media post, which comments would stand out the most to you? The two negatives. We are hard-wired to focus on the problems, issues, and things that need to improve. It’s natural for parents to do that with their teens. We see all A’s then a C- in Math and immediately start problem-solving with our teen on how to perform better on their next Algebra test. We often gloss over the positives to address the more pressing matter, the areas of improvement.
I encourage you to continue to help your teen be the best version of themselves by finding ways to improve. However, to have a positive self-image, kids need to be encouraged and experience positive interactions from their parents too. If we only focus on the areas of improvement, our teens will start to feel they are never good enough.
A good rule is five positive interactions to every one negative. An example is saying five encouraging things about the grades and work they did in school then discussing the negatives and what they can improve on in Math. Even if it seems like there are no positives, find the positives in their effort, attitude, work ethic, and determination.
As parents, it’s important for our kids to hear the message, “You are good.” If we primarily focus on the negatives, they start to believe the message, “I am bad.” Don’t completely neglect the negatives or things to improve on. But make sure the positives outweigh the negatives. Doing so will give your teen the confidence and will-power to work through hard things. This will help empower your teen.
When Vulnerability is Shown, Respond First With Validation
Teens do and say things to see if their parents can be trusted. When they have new and different perspectives on life, they want to see if you will accept those ideas and therefore accept them. They might say they believe in something outlandish like joining a cult. If our go-to, first response is judgement, condescension, and negativity, they will learn they don’t have good ideas and their parents don’t get them. This can lead to feeling isolated, resentful, and angry.
It’s natural for parents to be outraged if their teen tells them something ridiculous. And it’s healthy to talk about why something like joining a cult is bad. However, if we only focus on the negatives of their ideas or actions, we communicate THEY are bad. We can disagree with some troubling actions or ideas while providing support, love, and safety to explore new ideas for our kids.
Validate or acknowledge your teen's perspective. After your first response is validation, understanding, and acceptance, discuss with them the objective pros and cons of their perspective, idea, or action.
Here is an example. Your teen is in high school and wants to stay out past their normal curfew. The first response can be something like, “Okay! Tell me your thoughts behind that?” After your teen tells you their perspective, summarize what they said in your own words. When they are excited about something, reflect back that emotion.
Then say something like, “I see your perspective. It would be fun to spend more time with your friends and have more freedom. However, the curfew will be the same time tonight. We (parents) want you to get a good night sleep to be prepared for school the next day. I trust you will be safe, but I don’t trust others on the road past your curfew. So, for those reasons, the curfew will stay. If you decide to stay out past curfew, you will be grounded this weekend.”
Start off by addressing their perspectives then express your perspective and why. Express the natural consequence for breaking the rule that way they have all the information. If they still decide to break the boundary, they are not as shocked when the consequence is implemented. This process helps your teen feel empowered to make healthy choices and feel supported by their parents.
Allow Them to Make Their Own Choices
A great way to empower our teens is to let them make choices. Parents can give them a few options to choose from but then let them choose. At times, our teens might pick something we ourselves would never do. Maybe it’s wearing a different item of clothing or participating in an unusual activity. If our teen’s choice is not hurting themselves, others, or going against any societal or communal rules, allow them to make that choice.
It can be hard if your family is very athletic and your teenage son says he doesn’t want to play basketball this year but join an Esports club. This might not be your first pick for them and you see all the potential of your 6.3 potential basketball star. However, allowing your son to pursue an interest he has will help him be more confident and own his decisions. If he loves the Esports club, great! But if he doesn’t, he will own that fate much more so than if he was forced into doing something he doesn’t want. He will feel empowered to make his own choices.
Focus on Objective Facts When a Wrong Decision is Made
Teenagers make mistakes. It’s important to help our teens learn from their mistakes in a healthy way. When they make a mistake or do something inappropriate, be objective when breaking down what happened rather than being judgmental. Judgement makes teens feel shameful and drives a wedge between them and parents. There are better ways to help your teen make healthier decisions.
When your teenager makes a wrong decision, discuss objectively what happened and the pros and cons of that choice. If your teen gets a speeding ticket, it’s natural to get upset with them. It’s important for them to understand not to speed to help keep themselves and others safe. The act of getting a ticket is usually big enough consequence by itself to enforce the principle of driving the speed limit. When we talk with our teen about what happened, focus on what was problematic about their choices and why it’s important to make a healthier choice in the future. Explaining why driving the speed limit is important gives them more perspective and gives your teen more tools to make a different, healthier decision in the future.
It’s important to discuss what the consequences will be if they make another unhealthy decision. Getting a ticket is not fun, but being grounded too sucks even more. This will give them the opportunity to make the best choice in the future. We don’t want to lecture our teens because they will tune us out, so make it short and sweet. “Drive safe or you’ll be grounded.” This will empower your teen to make healthy decisions and give them the understanding of healthy, natural consequences.
Express Unconditional Love
We all love our kids unconditionally, however, we don’t always express that. No matter what your teenager does or says, it’s important to view and interact with them in a positive way. A counseling term used to describe this is unconditional positive regard. Unconditional positive regard means always seeing someone in a positive light and their potential for good.
This can be hard if you constantly see your teen making unhealthy decisions. I’m not saying to not address those unhealthy decisions. But we need to interact with our teens in a kind, supportive, and positive way. Often teens will continue to make unhealthy choices to get back at their parents for something. If a teen feels angry with their parent for not listening, understanding, or supporting them, they might become resentful and bitter which could perpetuate their negative behaviors.
Expressing unconditional love communicates safety to your teen. You are a safe person to come to no matter what’s going on. It gives your teen the peace knowing someone always has my back no matter what happens. Yes, they need to try to make healthy choices, but they also need to feel supported and empowered from their parents.
Every day is a new day. Every interaction is a new interaction. Every conversation is an opportunity to express and show love, compassion, support, and safety for your teen. They are going through a lot trying to figure out life. By empowering our teens, they will be better equipped to handle whatever life throws their way.
As parents, we won’t always get things right and that’s okay. Parenting is as much of a process for ourselves as it is for our kids. Focus on empowering your teen over the next few weeks and see what happens. Notice how your relationship improves with them. Notice how they respond and how you feel during these interactions. Discuss the positives and negatives with your spouse or friend. Be encouraged that you are the best person to parent your teen. Empower them and be empowered.