By: Judy Schrader, LMHC

Speak to any parent of a teenage child and you hear frustration and worry. When my daughter was in high school I never knew who was coming home. Was it my sweet daughter or her evil twin? Was my sullen son who did nothing but play video games ever going to speak more than one word at a time? Our kids today are under enormous pressure. Pressure for grades to get into college. Peer pressure to do drugs or have sex. They have changing bodies and hormones that they don’t know what to do with. One of the most complex challenges is the social media epidemic where rumors and intimidation can spread in hours, not weeks like when we were that age. What can parents do to help their child navigate this challenging world?

We as parents face many of the same pressures – work emails that come during family time, over-programmed schedules and a general change in the family dynamic that has us spending less uninterrupted time with our loved ones.

Family dinners still matter. Many children are over scheduled with after school activities, spend hours on their phones and computers, have a load of homework and just want to be left alone in their room. Family time diminishes greatly, yet it is more important than ever. So what can you do?

  • Have at least one night a week for a family sit-down dinner, without cellphones or the television in the background. Facilitate conversation and direct interaction. You can start by asking, what was the best and worst thing that happened to them that week.
  • Set aside time for one-on-one interaction. It can be as simple as an after dinner walk. This allows your child time to talk about difficult subjects.
  • Be emotionally available to allow your teen to talk about their challenges without overreacting to what they are telling you or asking about. Make no subject off limits, even if you are uncomfortable.
  • Share your values and, at the same time, allow them to challenge your views. Have a healthy debate rather than a fight telling them that you are right and they are wrong and that’s that.

Teenagers are supposed to be difficult. It is their time in life to explore their identity, to differentiate from you. If you allow them to experiment with who they are and the direction they want to take with their life, and you are supportive and available, your adolescent will have a greater chance of becoming a productive adult. I have survived my children’s teen years and am proud of the young adults that they have become.