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The Joys of Teenagers

By Bari Ross, LPC, M.Ed

Published in the Arizona Jewish Post

Just when you feel like you're finally "getting" the parenting role, your child blossoms into a teenager and the roller coaster of emotions and challenges begins all over again. If you can think of these teen years as an adventure and adjust your attitude accordingly, you can continue to enjoy the pleasures of parenting. Here are some ideas that may help to make this adventure feel a bit less stressful and more enjoyable.

While teenagers may act as if they pretty much know everything, inside they are struggling to fit in and to make the right choices. Meanwhile, as parents we are trying to keep our children safe and to stay in control. Control looks different when we are parenting teens. Even though teens continue to need boundaries (i.e., curfew at 11:30 on a school night, or they can't go out until they've taken out the garbage), they will do their best to try and get around these rules, looking to see what the consequences might be and how they can control or manipulate the situation. Keep enforcing the boundaries, even if they are continually broken. Teens need to know your values aren't shifting just because they're being uncooperative. They continue to hear your voice in their heads, so keeping those limits gives them guidelines. Maybe they'll stretch the limit and come home at 11:45, but they are still hearing your message.

People don't choose to have children because of convenience or a tax deduction. Being a parent is probably the most rewarding yet challenging job one can ever have. We do have children to create a lasting relationship, and during these teen years, as our children become young adults, your relationship will go through many changes.

To experience some of the joys of that relationship, it often helps to meet teens on their terms. Teens like to stay up late; their clocks are set to "teen" time. Being available at night will help to facilitate opportunities for connection, if you can keep it positive. Attempts at meaningful conversations at other times of the day are often met with silence or anger, but hang in there. Before teens get their own driver's licenses, talk time in the car (while listening to their radio stations) is another opportunity for meaningful conversation. Volunteering to carpool gives you a chance to get to know their friends. Keeping quiet and listening to their chatter can give you great insights into their lives. Once a week I would take my teen out for bagels before school, and we both really looked forward to that connection. Establishing rituals is important to adults and teens. If you make a commitment, make sure you can honor your promise.

Look for the common ground...whether it is going to eat sushi, seeing a movie together, or hiking in a favorite spot, find something you enjoy doing together. Try to participate in their activities, watching their basketball games or dance recitals. Try to plan several nights where you can eat dinner as a family. They may fight it, but teens love to eat and that time together has many unintended benefits. Remember to be interested and respectful.

But most of all, remember to laugh together, building the memories that will lead you into the next phase of parenting...their 20's! You won't be disappointed.

Bari Ross, LPC, M.Ed, is a former elementary school counselor. She has a private practice, specializing in grief and loss issues with children and adults.