All parents worry about their children. For good reason, during the teen years when worry can reach new heights. Teens are prone to risk-taking and rebellion as they push the limits on their way to adulthood. They face life-altering decisions at a time when they are still developing self-awareness and decision-making skills. Adding to that, they are growing up in a crazy digital world!
In the last ten years, I’ve talked with parents about their worries. I’ve coached them through their fears and helped them reach a balanced perspective so they can process their worry and meet their teen with clarity and calm. Through these conversations, it’s become clear that parents are most worried about their teen’s ability to cope with stress, make thoughtful decisions about their future, and remain safe on and off-line.
While these worries are understandable, parenting from a place of worry is unproductive. It is critical for parents to process their feelings of worry so they can parent their teen with intention.
Step 1: Process your worry
Name it to tame it.
The first step to releasing your worry is to acknowledge it. Recognize that it comes from deep love and concern for your teen. Remind yourself that feeling worried is natural but acting on it is not always productive. Once you acknowledge and accept your worry, take a deep breath or do something relaxing to calm your body.
Reflect on what matters.
Think ahead and ask yourself, what do you really want for your teen? When your desired outcome is clear, a parent from that place. Consider: What kind of parent-coaching does your teen need to make choices that support her health and happiness, and keep her safe? What kind of information, boundaries, and freedoms does your teen need in order to move toward adulthood with confidence and awareness?
Step 2: Take a positive parenting action
As you reflect on what you really want for your teen and your teen’s needs become clearer, you can adapt your parenting to meet those needs. You may also want to consider taking one or more of the following parenting actions:
Be aware of the unspoken pressure you may be putting on your teen. You may say that grades don’t matter but show disappointment when she gets a B or C or “freak out” if she is moving too slowly on an assignment. Try to focus on her process rather than the product. Acknowledge her efforts. If she’s falling behind, ask her what support she needs.
Teach your teen healthy ways to cope with stress and pressure. Talk about the activities that bring her a sense of peace and calm. Encourage her to carve out time each day or week for those activities. Introduce her to time management strategies that reduce feelings of overwhelm and stress. Share the activities you do that help you feel balanced and stay organized. Talk about the positives and negatives of social media and what boundaries she may need in order to use social media for good.
Set appropriate boundaries. When determining rules and consequences, calibrate with your teen’s level of maturity and responsibility. Explain why you have certain rules in place. Enforce logical consequences or natural consequences. Give her a chance to show she can handle new freedoms. Always be clear and consistent.
Allow your teen room to explore. It is important for teens to have freedom to try new styles, beliefs, languages, and even, sexuality. Try not to minimize or belittle a newfound interest.
Instead, show curiosity and ask thought-provoking questions will show her your support and help her figure herself out.
Get to know her friends. Create a home environment that welcomes your teen’s friends. Show an interest in their interests and direction. Talk about the potential dangers of online friends while also validating the role they play in her life. If you have a concern about a specific friend, talk with your teen about your concerns, ask her to help you understand why this person is so important to her, and help her make thoughtful choices.
Taming parent-worry takes practice and commitment. In addition to the practices outlined here, talking with a friend or parent coach can provide you with a helpful perspective and additional ideas for how to support yourself and your teen.
You are not alone on your parenting journey!