March 14, 2016 —

Parenting teens can be hard work. We all know that many parents dread the teen years, partly because we all dread "losing our babies". However, it is important to remember that we aren't really losing our babies. We are actually raising strong men and women. I have witnessed too many parents stop raising their teens because they start to think that their teens don’t really want or need them anymore. Newsflash: Teens still want you and they need you more than ever! As they embark on a journey to leave the nest, teens need to test their independence, but they also need your guidance. It is critical that parents help their teens see the consequences of their actions and get teens to think before they act. Making mistakes in the teenage years can have lasting repercussions.

As with most things in parenting, the best advice I can give you is to open the door to communication with your teen. Teens don't always seem like they are listening, but it is OK to demand your teen’s attention on important things. However, it’s also important to remember that communication is a two-way street and you need to listen to your teen as well. And not just when you are engaged in "important conversations".  Real open communication begins with listening to and talking about the little stuff, too. If they know you make time for discussing little things, teens will also feel more comfortable discussing big things with you.
Once the door for communication with your teens is open, go ahead and broach the important topics. Don't be afraid of uncomfortable topics, but remember: You can't cover everything in one sitting. Spreading out these important conversations will give you the chance to go into more details, ask questions and really listen to what your teen says. The difficult topics (such as drinking, smoking, interacting with the opposite sex, texting while driving and trying new fads for getting high) won't go away if you don't discuss them. They will just happen without you having a chance to share your advice with your teen. You don't want peer pressure to be the only influence on your teen when they find themselves in a tricky situation.

A discussion around a potential danger facing your teen should include talking about why the danger is something to be avoided in the first place. The more information teens have, the more likely they are see your perspective. The conversation should also include asking questions. Ask if your teen has heard of the risky behavior and if they – or any of their friends – have encountered it. The purpose of your questions is not to accuse or get angry. The purpose is to listen to what your teen has to say. It is also important to find out if you teen has questions. Talk through potential scenarios with your teen and help them brainstorm how they could respond to peer pressure. Ask your teen to think about what the potential consequences of an action might be. Do they really understand all the dangers a specific situation presents? Are there legal implications they may not have thought of? Helping teens think through the situations and come up with the possible consequences themselves is great practice for the logical thinking they will need to help them think before they act when you are not around.  

These discussions are not the easiest, but they help to build character. They are also very rewarding – just think about how much grief you could be saving your teen and yourself by helping your teen to understand that their actions can have very real and lasting consequences. These conversations are so important, but don't stop there. Keep observing your teen’s behavior, keep asking questions and keep listening. Trust your gut. Stay in the loop because your teen still needs you, even when it seems like they are pushing you away. These teen years can be tricky, but if you work on continuing to raise your teen even when it gets tough, you will be so proud of the adult your teen grows into!

Scarlet Paolicchi is the founder of Family Focus Blog, a resource for all things family related from parenting tips to dinner recipes, to family travel.  Scarlet married her college sweetheart and they live in Nashville with their wonderful children. You can learn more about Scarlet and check out her more of her writing at Family Focus Blog. You can also connect with Scarlet on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.