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Preparing for Your Child's Teen Years

  • Drs. Gary and Greg Smalley from the DNA of Parent-Teen Relationships
  • 2008 7 Mar
Preparing for Your Child's Teen Years

Adolescence. The word alone sends chills up the backs of many parents. It may seem like just yesterday that you and your teenager had a great relationship, one that didn't seem so confusing or frustrating. We're not suggesting that everything will become terrible as your son or daughter moves into adolescence. Every child is unique and will respond to the teenage years differently. What we can guarantee, however, is that things will change.

One reason adolescence can be so difficult for parents is that for the past 12 years you have been accustomed to a certain type of relationship with your son or daughter. Then, sometimes even overnight, so many things can change. Unfortunately, we often resist change by either ignoring what's taking place or trying to continue using the same old habits. But failure to adapt to change usually leads to disaster, as the following story illustrates.

For many years, up into the late 1960s, Switzerland dominated the world of watch making. Most people who wanted a high-quality watch bought a Swiss watch. Over the next decade, however, the Swiss dominance eroded steadily. By the early 1980s, Switzerland's market share had collapsed to less than 10 percent. In an instant (historically speaking), it was no longer the market leader.

What caused this huge turnaround? The Swiss ran into a change in the way watches were made. In the past, all watches had used mechanical components like gears, bearings, and mainsprings. But then the industry turned to electronics. Suddenly, high-quality, dependable, and less-expensive watches could be bought from the Japanese and others. In less than 10 years, the "secure" Swiss watch making future was greatly diminished.

Both our experience and our research indicate that increasing honor and decreasing anger in the home are the two main principles in raising healthy teenagers.

The irony was that the situation could have been avoided if only the Swiss had realized the kind of change they were facing. The Swiss themselves had invented the electronic quartz movement. Yet when their researchers presented this revolutionary technology to the Swiss manufacturers, it was rejected. In no way could this battery-powered, electronic device be the watch of the future, the watchmakers concluded. So they allowed their researchers to showcase this "inferior" invention at the World Watch Congress without a patent. A Japanese company took one look, and the rest, as they say, is history.2

For the past 12 years, you have become a "market leader" in the field of parenting. We hope you've become an expert at understanding the needs and desires of your child. But the times are changing as your child enters adolescence! Your teenager will face much transition, which we'll discuss throughout the book. As a parent, you need to keep from making the same mistake the Swiss made when faced with major changes. Instead of rejecting this new phase and trying to parent in the same manner you always have, you'll want to learn new ways to relate to your teen.

We're not suggesting you disregard what has worked in the past. But you can learn new methods that can meet the specific needs of your teenager. You may already be doing many of the things we'll advise. If so, great—keep doing those things. You might also have found methods that work that we will not discuss. That's great, too. We know there are countless ways to parent a teen effectively. What we'll offer are those things that worked for our family. Our main desire is to help you understand the changing needs of the adolescent and develop appropriate parenting skills.

Not only is this a time when your children are changing, but it's also a time when you're changing. This can be a traumatic period for everyone in the family. Below are some of these "quartz like" changes that can affect both parents and teens during adolescence:

  • Marital dissatisfaction is greater when the kids are teens than when the kids are infants or adults.
  • Many parents (both mom and dad) go through an identity or midlife crisis.
  • Economic burdens increase.
  • Many parents at this stage feel that their physical attractiveness is in decline.
  • Caring for aging parents becomes a major responsibility.
  • Friends become very important.
  • Dating relationships develop.
  • Acne may cover their faces.
  • They get jobs.
  • Rebellion is a possibility.
  • They're more concerned about what they wear.
  • They want more independence.
  • Peer pressure is a major influence.
  • Premarital sex is a temptation.
  • Drug or alcohol use is another temptation.
  • They're becoming separate individuals.
  • They tend to have an optimistic outlook on the future, seeing the time available to them as unlimited.
  • Identity crises are common.

As you can see, these can be dramatic changes for both adolescents and parents. Some of the changes parents experience, such as a decline in physical looks, are going in the opposite direction for teens, who are as lean as they'll ever be as adults. This is just one of the many reasons why conflict with parents increases when children first hit adolescence.

To deal with these changes, one of the best things parents can do is to work at keeping their marriage strong. The stress and tension of raising a teen can intensify any marital problems. When the couple feels unhappy in their relationship, the child is usually affected as well. Parents in conflict tend to express less concern and warmth toward their teenager and utilize stricter-than-usual discipline, creating increased emotional hardship for the child. When parents enjoy each other and are happy with their relationship, they're more likely to spend pleasurable time with their teenagers and to emphasize family teamwork.

Even when there's little conflict between parents, the overwhelming demands of providing such things as transportation and money, and of monitoring a teen's activities, can cause parents to neglect the marital relationship. This is why couples are more likely than usual to divorce when they have teenage children.

It's also imperative for parents of teens to strengthen their personal relationship with God. This seems obvious, but the fact is that the same pressures that threaten the marital relationship tend to deprive parents of time with God as well. Regular time spent cultivating closeness with Him needs to be made and kept a high priority.

Your relationships with God and your spouse should form the foundation upon which you construct your parenting. In fact, we would go so far as to say that the building blocks we present in this book will not be effective if that foundation is not solid. Therefore, commit yourself to strengthening these two areas before attempting to enhance your adolescent-parenting skills.

© Copyright 2006 Smalley Relationship Center