Plenty of parents call me this time of year, exhausted and tell me, “my teen needs therapy stat!” or “I was fine raising my child but now that he/she’s an adolescent I’m at a loss”. Parenting a teenager is a new and scary experience for most, and to shift how you interact with your children can be a difficult. The good news is there are some parenting techniques for teens that can help you successfully build family harmony and a healthy, independent young adult.
As children get older, they test boundaries much more often. This can be challenging at times, and that is why it is extremely important to build structure when parenting a teenager. They need someone to guide them without being smothering. So, instead of constantly guiding them by the hand on a path that should be their own, you can see yourself to be like the railing of a bridge. You can be there to make sure they don’t crash over the side while also being the guiding force that they desperately need.
Teenagers thrive with a positive method of parenting so they feel independent, as well as heard and supported. They may not voice it, but the support and guidance you provide as a parent is appreciated. When I hear kids say their parents are ‘getting in their face’ and ‘nagging’, they often become resentful and will refuse to cooperate simply to win.. The more they feel confronted or attacked, the more they will retreat away from you. Building structure for any child often means setting boundaries and being there for them in the way that they need. As you play the role of the railing of the bridge, keeping them on the right track but not guiding them by the hand, they will figure more out on their own and gain valuable life skills.
How do you Become the Rail and Stay off the Road?
As a parent coach, here are a couple of skills my clients have reported as the most effective ways to communicate with their kiddos:
The If/Then Technique
Using the when/then parenting skill in situations that would normally end in a power struggle and screaming match. The if/then technique was popularized by Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, and works as a way of replacing the word when, with when, while directing your child to do what you request of them. “If” lets the child know they have a choice, while the word “when” implies that they have no choice but to comply with what you’ve told them to do. For example, saying, “When you do the dishes, then you can go out with your friends.” There is a reward built into it, which is also useful as positive reinforcement. Using this method means there is no yelling, just a simple restructuring of phrases. They will understand that when they do what you want them to do, then they can do what they want to do.
The Broken Record Technique
Applying the broken record parenting technique, especially when you want to keep your teenager safe. Instead of debating or arguing with them, you repeat the same instructions over and over until they do what they are told. This shows them that you know what is best for them, and that they need to comply before they get to do anything else. If you don’t change your request, they will come to realize that you mean business and they aren’t going to be allowed to break the rules. You are keeping them safe and happy, and showing them that you mean what you say.
Yelling and battling is exhausting- it may produce short-term results, but in the long term won’t move your child towards success. Building structure, creating boundaries, and utilizing positive reinforcement can go a long way in helping your teen become a better person and have a smoother life all around. They need your love and guidance more than anything else at this time in their lives, as they figure out who they are and what their purpose is. So in focusing on your role as the railings of a bridge as a tool for positive parenting, you will give them exactly what they need to shape themselves and learn how to function in the world.
Specializing in working with parents of 'difficult' teens, Ms. Kerschmann’s experience includes training with the Family Mediation Centre in Melbourne, Australia, where she contributed to the creation of a parent-adolescent-school mediation program (CRESS), which is now utilized by the Victoria Family Court System and affiliated therapists.
In 2004, Ms. Kerschmann earned her license to practice as a therapist in the state of California while working for the San Diego County Children’s Services bureau. During that time she was a social worker with the Adoptions Program and later helped establish the HOME Program, which provides housing for former foster youth. Ms. Kerschmann was also licensed as a custody mediator in the state of Minnesota in 1998.
Karen Kerschmann’s educational background includes a master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis in law and political psychology.
In addition to her private practice, Ms. Kerschmann is an advocate for current and former foster youth and is a foster parent for Special Families. She provides clinical therapist services to various group homes and foster teens, as well as offering individual, group and family therapy to former foster youth under the age of 25 for a low fee or pro bono.