How to Deal With the Stress of Parenting Teenagers
August 9, 2016 | Home and Family
The high school library is filled with students ready for a 90-minute lesson. Many are eager, pencils poised over paper. But these are not teenagers, they’re parents of teenagers, anxious to soak up information about how to deal with the sometimes contentious sons and daughters they’ve left at home.
“Parenting is not for the faint of heart,” family therapist Holly Hughes Stoner begins. “It stretches us.”
Hughes Stoner is conducting the first of three parent wellness sessions at a midwest suburban school district. The goal is to create strategies to navigate the difficult high school years and beyond. Hughes Stoner points out that a child might be in his or her 30s before parents will truly know if they have raised a successful adult. That is why her first tip is so important: Create a non-judgmental, safe landing zone for your children so that they will want your advice in the future. “Build a relationship with them so they’ll come back and say ‘I’ve got a problem’ if they need to,” she says.
Hughes Stoner urges parents to think of examples of both good and bad leaders in their workplace, and then emulate the qualities of a good leader at home. These can include things like showing respect, trusting those around you without micromanaging, taking suggestions and offering encouragement.
Communicating effectively is one of the chief concerns Hughes Stoner hears from parents. The other is grades. When it comes to grades, she urges parents to see the big picture. As the mother of three grown children, she feels that high school GPAs can be overblown.
“I know it seems like the biggest thing now—their grades and what AP classes they are in—but trust me, it’s not. Keep reminding yourself that you are trying to create adults and not just get them through with a high GPA.”
Obsession with grades can lead some parents to nag their children about homework almost from the moment they get home. This, according to Hughes Stoner, is a mistake.
“They truly need some rest and relaxation. They have just been ‘at work’ for eight hours, and now we’re asking them to put in another eight hours doing sports and homework. Would you like that?”
Regarding communication, parents often tell Hughes Stoner, “My kid won’t answer any of my questions. I only get shrugs to everything I ask.” Her advice: “When they come home from a party, don’t ask, ‘What did you guys talk about?’ because the answer will almost always be ‘I don’t know.’
“Instead, ask a specific question, such as ‘Did anybody talk about politics?’ This is much more likely to get you an answer, even if it’s ‘Mooom, we don’t talk about politics. We talk about (fill in the blanks).’ Then you’ve gotten them to open up.”
Here are some other tips from Hughes Stoner:
1. Be home as often as you can. Teenagers may not act like it, but most truly want the comfort that comes from having a parent in the house. You might be looking at a closed bedroom door the whole time, but Hughes Stoner says they deeply appreciate you being there.
2. Know that your words and actions are being watched. “The human species is wired to imitate,” says Hughes Stoner. Kids are going to speak and act like us more than we care to admit, so model the behavior you want to see.
3. Give kids more credit for their ideas and judgment. Hughes Stoner offered the example of her own daughter, who kept resisting her mother’s push for her to hang out with a certain girl. Finally, the daughter told her why—and Hughes Stoner was shocked by some of the girl’s behavior. “I should have listened to my daughter; she knew. I should have trusted her.”
4. Acknowledge with your children how scary the world can be. Kids put up a good front at times, but they are negotiating a lot of issues on a daily basis. “Believe it or not, drugs are available in most schools. Ask any kids if they know the right person to get drugs from, and most will say yes. That doesn’t mean they are doing them; but they’re very aware, and they’re deciding where they fall on these issues.” Have some adult conversations with them about what’s happening at school and how they feel about the crowd they’re in.
5. Don’t dismiss their problems as petty. A breakup, for example, is very real to a teenager who is just putting him- or herself out there romantically. Instead of saying, “It’s just a crush, I’m sure you’ll get over it soon,” try this approach: “That must really hurt. Let’s talk about it.”
6. If they do something wrong, use it as a teaching moment. “Don’t automatically ground them,” urges Hughes Stoner. “Say, ‘Help me understand why you did this,’ and have a conversation, not a lecture.”
7. Guide them through major milestones. We may assume graduating from high school and college are exhilarating times, but they’re often terrifying for kids who wonder, "What now?" Help them process their feelings, and talk through every life change.
The high school library session wound down, but many parents lingered, chatting in small groups.
“You know what this shows me? It shows me that parents really need to talk,” laughed Hughes Stoner. She urged moms and dads of teens to start socializing together. Parents of older children often feel alone due to the fact that the playgroups of pre-school and elementary school are long gone. A weekly or monthly coffee talk or book club is a great idea.
Finally, Hughes Stoner implored parents to remember an old saying: You can’t pour from an empty cup.
“If we are stressed out or emotionally flooded or we don’t get enough sleep, that stress comes out in our parenting. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your teen.”