Teens Need Their Parents: Tips for Staying Positively Engaged
In this Q & A, Allison Gilbert, Senior Writer for the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, talks with Dr. Ken Ginsburg, author of the just-released book, Congrats―You’re Having a Teen!: Strengthen Your Family and Raise a Good Person and Founding Director of CPTC. Dr. Ginsburg reminds parents how important they are in teenagers’ lives and offers advice on how to stay actively and positively engaged. We’re thrilled he joined us for this meaningful discussion.
Allison Gilbert: There are many books about parenting, a great number of them focusing on babies and toddlers. Why do teens need special attention?
Ken Ginsburg: The adolescent years give us an outstanding opportunity to support human development, a time rivaled only by the first three years of life. But parents don’t know that they matter. There are myths about adolescence, things that are not true, that push adults away from teens. As a result, when parents ask themselves, “Do I still matter in the life of my teen?” they might think that they don’t. We need every parent who asks the question, “Do I still matter?” to answer that question with a 100% “Yes,” and that’s what this book is about.
AG: What are three of your most essential takeaways for guiding teens on their path to becoming thriving adults?
KG: The first is to honor their growing independence so your teen will choose to be interdependent with you. If you are controlling of them, they will push you away. But when you offer guidance focused on their safety and well-being, they will cherish your involvement. Number two: Know that the unconditionality of your love is the most protective force in your child’s life. And that means knowing who your child really is and loving them fully in all their strengths and complexities. Because when we do that, young people know they’re worthy of being loved, and there’s nothing more protective. The final takeaway is to guide, not dictate. Be a sounding board that enables young people to think things through and develop their internal wisdom.
AG: One of my favorite sections of your book centers on when parents should step in and when it might be better to step back. How can parents judge what’s best?
KG: I’ll answer this question by taking a look back. When your child was three-years-old, you may have let them knock over things in the living room so they could learn the consequences of their actions, but you never let them put their hand on the stove. Likewise, during adolescence, growth comes from failure, and wisdom comes from experience. Parents can let their teens make mistakes while standing by their side. But if there’s an issue that compromises their safety – a “hand on the stove” moment – parents are there to jump in to protect their children.
Here’s an example. Teens will no doubt make mistakes with their peers. They’ll lose friendships, and they’ll make some unwise decisions. That is the way they’re going to grow. It’s how they will learn to be a better spouse, parent, and colleague. But parents should never let a teen get into a car with another teen who is driving drunk. Because that is a “hand on the stove” moment – a mistake too serious to be an option.
AG: There’s an entire section of your book called “Restoring.” Why devote so much space to repairing relationships between parents and teens?
KG: Relationships are complicated, and that’s true whether you’re talking about the relationship with your spouse, your best friend, or a colleague at work. But some relationships are worth investing in heavily, even when things don’t go well.
Adolescents, by nature, will push parents away at times. They will stretch a little too far into territory that may not have been wise. But we can’t let those moments disrupt the most protective force in their lives – our unconditional love. And we can’t let those times of discomfort in the moment interrupt our ability to guide them in the present or remain deeply connected far into the future. The truth is that our relationship with our adult children will last for decades, and we hope it will evolve into one that is deeply interdependent.
Parents and teens need to learn how to repair their relationship when something goes wrong. And we can do that by focusing on all that is good and right in the child and reminding ourselves why we care so much. You wouldn’t be angry, and you wouldn’t be hurt if you didn’t love so deeply. Let the power of your love be the starting point toward a healed relationship.
AG: A mission of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication is changing the narrative around teens — from that of a time parents must survive to a time that parents can enjoy and celebrate. How is your book part of this goal?
KG: It starts by helping parents understand how much they matter in young lives. Thinking that adolescents don’t care what adults think: Not true. Thinking that adolescents are always irrational: Not true. When we start with the truths about adolescents, which is how much they want us in their lives, how much they want to be safe, and how much they want to learn, then we’re coming from a place where we can enter their lives with less friction and the love they deserve.
The goal of parenting a teen is to prepare them to lead us into the future. To elevate and celebrate their character strengths. And to guide them towards becoming 35-year-olds full of wisdom and compassion.
AG: Changing the conversation about teens is one achievement. How has the Center for Parent and Teen Communication succeeded in other ways?
KG: Changing the conversation about teenagers would not be meaningful if it was not accompanied by concrete guidance that parents and teens can put to immediate use. We provide the communication skill sets needed to develop stronger relationships. When we hear that families have learned from us a different and more effective way of communicating with their teens and that teens are turning to us to learn how to strengthen and restore their relationships with their parents, that has profound and deep meaning to our entire team.