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We asked Leslie Malchy, a registered private practice clinical counsellor and the owner and clinical director of Soft Landing Therapy in Vancouver, to provide some tips on how to cope when your teenager rebels.
1. Try to understand why teens rebel
As your children become teenagers they will start to push beyond the rules set for them in their childhoods. But they do so for a reason.
"Teens have inherently less power within the family, and they are beginning at this point in life to try to take power in their own lives and to experiment with boundaries," explains Malchy. This is a normal and natural state of human growth. "It is their job in this stage of development to question your authority and values while trying to find their own," she says.
If you are having trouble with this change in your kids, it might be time to redefine your own role as a parent, the counsellor advises. "Think about it as your job in your own development as a person and parent to let them go and do this," Malchy says. "Ask yourself what you need to face in yourself in order to complete this milestone in your own development." This might mean acknowledging and accepting that your teenager has different values than you do so you can support him in his journey of self-discovery.
2. Remember that you are still the parent
You still have authority over your teen -- even if you don't feel like you do. Your teenager may seem years older than he did merely a few months ago, but he still has a lot to learn about the world and you still need to guide him, Malchy says.
"They are still minors and need a certain amount of clear authority and boundary-setting to accompany their newfound freedom and growth," she says. "Incorporate firmness to give your teen a keen sense of stability, but also be gentle and warm."
This can be difficult when you want to be the boss; however it is a time when you really need to find a healthy balance between stepping back while still maintaining authority.
Page 1 of 2 -- Check out three more helpful tips for coping with a rebellious teen on page 2
3. Set reasonable rules and expectations
When it comes to raising teens it's important to be firm with important things and flexible with minor issues. "Respect their privacy and give them more of it, but not to an absolute. Let them stay out later, but not all night. Let them choose their fashion, but not whether they can attend class," Malchy advises.
It's appropriate to modify your social expectations of your teens while still keeping in mind reasonable limits regarding their safety and security, she explains. Share your thoughts with your teens but avoid criticizing them.
"You may be judgmental or not like what you see at this time. But you do want them to be able to explore, think on their own, discover for themselves and make their own decisions in life, especially when they are no longer living under your roof," she adds.
4. Keep the lines of communication open
Let your teens know that they can talk to you about anything -- and actually mean it. "Be clear that you do mean that they can come to you if they have sex, use alcohol or whatever it may be. If you say one thing but mean another, your teens will likely know this and not listen to your words if they do need to talk," says Malchy.
When talking to your teens, use open-ended questions that invite dialogue instead of judgmental lines of questioning, she advises. "Set your boundaries in a respectful and calm manner if you can."
5. Be there for them when they make mistakes
The teenage years include a lot of learning and mistakes. So be there to debrief those mistakes, Malchy says. "Your teenager is striving for autonomy, not only behaviourally, physically and sexually, but cognitively and emotionally as well. She needs you as a secure base to come home to if or when things go wrong."
It's also important to keep an eye out for larger issues. If your child is losing or gaining excessive amounts of weight, having problems sleeping for six weeks or longer, regularly skipping classes or failing grades, having trouble with law enforcement or showing signs of drug and alcohol use, these are red flags. Malchy suggests you also learn the signs and symptoms of mental illness, such as low moods, lack of pleasure in things, thoughts about suicide, hearing voices or engaging in bizarre behaviour. If your teen is demonstrating any of the above behaviours or symptoms, enlist professional help.
Teenagers are not always easy to deal with, but patience, honesty and a willingness to keep the lines of communication open can help make this phase of parenting much easier to handle.
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