From negotiating curfews to handling the first years of dating to helping plan life after high school, the challenges of raising a teenager are almost certain to leave you wistful for the days of bedtime stories and diaper changes.
And yet you wouldn’t trade this time for anything in the world, would you? You’re not only blessed with frequent glimpses of the adult your teen will soon become, but also with the opportunity to model and shape the values your son or daughter will carry forward into adult life.
Here are five tips to set your child up for success, both during the teen years and beyond.
1. Create a safe space for discussion
Sitting down for a planned heart-to-heart can feel awkward for you and your teen. So why not try a more casual approach? Johnny Lo, a child and youth mental health therapist at Youthwise in Richmond, B.C., suggests sneaking daily conversations in during other activities, such as hikes or strolls around the neighbourhood.
When the conversation turns to more difficult topics, like bullying, prioritize empathy over problem-solving, advises Marina Louis, a registered social worker and therapist at the Toronto Counselling Centre for Teens. While it might feel tempting to call the principal to address a bullying problem, you should first focus on how the conflict makes your teen feel and how it might affect his or her self-image or sense of identity, she says.
2. Make time for validation and affirmation
Unrequited love, mean girls and anxieties about fitting in are some of the toughest struggles teens face during adolescence. They can chip away at even the strongest sense of self-esteem. As a parent, you can help reinforce a positive image.
“It’s important for parents to continuously affirm their children on all levels: how they look, how they feel, their intelligence and their abilities,” says Louis.
Validation doesn’t have to feel awkward. A simple “I understand why you feel that way...” to empathize with hurt feelings or a quick “good going!” to recognize achievements goes a long way in building your teen’s sense of self-worth.
3. Teach financial lessons early
One of the most useful gifts you can give your teenagers before they head out into the world is a strong grounding in financial literacy: Teach delayed gratification by helping your teens set up a college/university savings plan with their allowance or earnings.
- Find out how a registered education savings plan (RESP) can help you put your child on the road to success.
Talk about the benefits and potential pitfalls of credit cards. Touch on the basics of student loans, rental agreements, insurance, budgeting and anything else you wish someone had told you about money matters when you were their age.
4. Offer support, even when you don’t agree
Adolescence gives you a peek into the adult your teen will grow into. But what if you don’t agree with your teen’s vision of their future? The conversation might feel tricky, but it does your teen a disservice not to share your concerns, says Louis. Make it clear that you don’t need to agree with those decisions to support them. And back it up with action, like helping create a plan for your teen to pursue this or her goals – with room for a contingency plan in case of a change of mind. These conversations, while difficult, can ultimately bring you closer and create a more adult relationship, she says.
5. Walk the walk
As with most aspects of life, actions speak louder than words when raising a teen.
“If parents don’t lead by example to pass on their values,” Lo says, “teens are going to pick up their values somewhere else, like social media.”
So share the value of healthy living by involving your teen in the household cooking and scheduling active family fun. Instill generosity by volunteering at your local food bank as a family. Demonstrate the value of financial planning by sharing your own savings plan and describing how it helped you get to where you are.
Serving as a consistent role model not only shapes core values, it also helps your teenager develop the sort of strong sense of self that will empower him or her to make good decisions, even when you’re not around. And is there any better measure of success for parenthood?
More good reading for parents of teens: