June 02, 2014 —

Anyone who remembers being a teenager can attest to the fact that it can be the most challenging time of your life. There are so many expectations - from your parents, peers and yourself - that it can be both overwhelming and discouraging. In this time of confusion and constant transition, teens often make mistakes. It’s a part of learning. It’s a part of growing. And it offers parents a chance to communicate with their teens on a deeper level – and to help guide them through some of their toughest situations.

I know this first-hand not only from working with clients, but also from parenting my teenager. And as the parent of a teen who has made some very public mistakes (like that time he took alcohol to school), I know how critical it is to appropriately handle the crucial conversations that follow when your teen screws up. Using these three tips, you can be better prepared to respond appropriately when your teen makes a disappointing decision.

1) Don’t judge. This is easier said than done, but it’s so important. Think back to when you were a teen and muster up every bit of understanding you can find. It’s easy for us to immediately jump to judgment over our teen’s misguided actions, but don’t. Try to understand the “why” behind them. No matter what, you need to let teens know that their actions don’t define them, and that you are not judging them because of the mistakes they’ve made.
 
2) Stay calm. When I received a call from the assistant principal at my 8th grader’s middle school to tell me that my teen brought alcohol to school, calm was nowhere to be found. However, I knew that when I got to my teen’s school and sat down to talk to him that I would have to stay calm in order to communicate effectively. Teens are always looking for clues as to what our reactions say about how we feel about them. For this reason, parents have to stay calm when communicating with teens about their mistakes. Raised voices - yelling and/or screaming - will not yield a favorable result.

3) Remain emotionally connected. As parents, we often feel as though our teens’ mistakes are a reflection of us, which can lead us to emotionally withdraw while we sulk over our perceived parenting failures. The truth is that our teens’ mistakes are a part of life. Teens make disappointing decisions, no matter how much involvement their parents have in teaching them right versus wrong. We all stumble on the path to learning about ourselves and figuring out who we want to be. That is what being a teenager is all about. Your teen’s disappointing decision can be an opportunity for you to become more connected with them. Stay present in their daily lives. Communicate regularly and truly be there for your teen; chances are, the same mistake won’t happen twice.

Carin Kilby Clark is a mother of three, author of the forthcoming book Live Joyous Mommyhood, Huffington Post Blogger, Yahoo! Contributor, and HowToLearn.com Parenting Expert. Get your free resource guide with the Top 5 Productivity Tools Every Busy Mom Needs at mommyhoodmentor.com.