Be the Kind of Parent Teens Talk To
Being the Parent Who Teens Go to for Advice
Your ability to protect your child is not gained from what you ask, it is earned from what you know. Remember you can ask lots of questions, but your teen may choose to remain silent, or even to lie. You want to be the kind of parent whose teen will choose to come to for loving and wise guidance.
When we talk about “Parenting Style” we are referring to the balance between two key elements of good parenting. Love and warmth, on the one hand, rules and monitoring on the other. When we have these two potentially opposing forces at play we have the potential for four styles of parenting.
- Low Warmth and High Rules.
- Authoritarian parents tell children “Do as I say, Why? Because I said so!”
- High Warmth and Low Rules.
- Permissive parents tell children “I care so much about you, I think of you as a friend. I trust you to make your own decisions.”
- Low Warmth and Low Rules.
- Disengaged parents tell children “Kids will be kids, I figured it out, so will you.”
- High Warmth and High Rules.
- Balanced or Authoritative or Lighthouse parents will tell children “I love you. I am your parent and that is better than being your friend. I am going to let you make your share of mistakes, but for the things that might affect your safety or morality, you’ll do as I say.”
From the Perspective of a Teenager
Think about it from a young person’s perspective:
- You won’t go to an authoritarian parent for advice or permission because you know the answer — it’s no!
- It’s not necessary to go to a permissive parent for advice or permission because you know the answer — it’s yes.
- You won’t go to a disengaged parent for advice or permission because you (perhaps mistakenly) believe it’s “I don’t care.”
- You will go to a balanced parent for advice because you know they care and they are very thoughtful about issues of safety and morality. Children want to be safe. Wait!! You might be saying, “Kids think they’re invincible and they just care about pleasure. They don’t care about safety, and certainly, don’t care about morality.” These are some of the most dangerous widely held myths about adolescents. Kids do want to do the right thing. They don’t want to be controlled but they want guidance along the way to adulthood so they can establish and own their decisions. They trust guidance the most from parents who express love openly and allow for independence but protect from danger. Science disproves the myth of invulnerability. Science says they come most to balanced parents.
Remember, this style of parenting is effective precisely because it maintains a balance between freedom and constraints. Freedom within established limits lets children explore and develop important skills that will serve them well on their way to becoming successful and productive adults. You and your teen share the same goal: a positive relationship that helps them prepare for challenges ahead.
Two Final Points
- Young people appreciate parents who are responsive to their needs. They will better understand rules that are flexible to meet their unique circumstances and that honor their growing displays of responsibility.
- We recognize your parenting style may vary from what we’ve recommended here. We are suggesting you try to use a balanced parenting style because it has many benefits backed up by decades of research that shows it supports healthy adolescent development and reduces risks. We believe all families benefit from relationships where parents both express their caring and take the steps to keep their children within protected boundaries. However, what precisely that looks like should vary by family. Your family has unique cultural values. Your community has different available resources. Your neighborhood has its own safety issues. And your teen his his/her own peer group. Above all, your teen is one-of-a-kind. For all of these reasons, although we offer you guidance on the importance of gaining real authority with your children by choosing a balanced approach, you should customize these suggestions for your household.
Keep the Conversation Going
By being responsive you can help keep the conversation going. Children are more likely to want to continue with it when they are given the opportunity to brainstorm solutions and demonstrate responsibility. Learn more about this here.
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