We asked local experts to weigh in on their tips for raising teenagers.
To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.
Trudy Ruminer: Honoring your teen’s appropriate developmental need for independence and trusting their decision-making can be a daunting task for most parents. At times, this challenge can feel much like walking a tight rope, naked with no safety net. As parents, we have a strong innate tendency toward protecting our children from harm and discomfort at any cost. Ideally, we start the process of teaching our child about cause and effect from the first sign of the little angels asserting their independence. If we gradually, as developmentally appropriate, allow our children the gift of making thousands of affordable mistakes that result in the occasional scraped knee and bruised ego at every stage, these mistakes turn into wonderful learning experiences. Allowing your child to make affordable mistakes all along the way takes practice, patience and possibly a few sleepless nights. With as much courage as you can possibly muster, allow your teen the freedom to make choices for themselves even if some of the choices have minor disaster written all over them. Then, here comes the hard part folks, let your teen learn from those mistakes by not coming to their immediate rescue. Of course some things are non-negotiable such as not wearing a seat belt, texting while driving and feeding the neighbor’s rabid dog. In these instances, every parent should exercise their God given right to take the keys away, turn the cell phone off and insist their teen get a rabies vaccination.
Trudy Ruminer is a licensed clinical social worker and the clinical director and owner of True North Therapeutic Solutions, an outpatient mental health agency in Oklahoma City. Trudy is mother to four adult children and the proud grandmother to one. She draws her knowledge not only from her own personal parenting experiences, but also from her years of experience working closely with families.
Dr. Anne K. Jacobs: Adolescence is a time of substantial, yet uneven, cognitive development which can make it a bit scary for parents. One moment, your teens are having a lovely, philosophical conversation with you, and then they turn around and commit some completely bone-headed act. This is confusing, frustrating and, sadly, quite normal. Focus on asking questions instead of issuing directives. Help your teen develop skills to generate possible solutions, evaluate the potential outcomes and decide on a good course of action. Allow teenagers to do the heavy lifting in these conversations. If the first few solutions they throw out seem undesirable, fight the urge to jump in and rescue them. Remember the process is what is important right now. Obviously if there is a safety issue, you may have to redirect the conversation if your teen is ignoring risks. Remember, teens still need connection and supervision. Your teenager’s past behavior will help shape how much supervision you will need to provide. These years are marked by impulsivity, so even as you give your teens space to start making their own decisions and experiencing the consequences of their actions, keep in touch with whom and how they spend their free time. Check in on online activity and avoid allowing free access to phones and computers, especially after bedtime. Making wise decisions is even harder if your teen is exhausted.
Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas.
Madison Clark: Teenagers need independence to grow and prepare for adulthood, but it can be very scary for parents to let them have the freedom necessary to mature. I believe the key to nurturing a teen into making smart choices is an open and honest relationship with their parents. When children are young, we talk to them about the importance of not running out into the street or talking to strangers. These same conversations need to continue with our teen children about different dangers: driving, drugs, alcohol, relationship safety, etc. It is much better for parents to prepare for these dangers and come up with plans, than to allow them to explore the possibilities on their own. When I was a teenager, my parents had a rule that I could call them at any time if I felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and they would pick me up. They promised to stay in the car and gave me a free pass from getting into trouble for being in the situation in the first place. So often teenagers get into situations where they feel they have no way out and they continue down a scary path. Each child is so different, so I believe rules and expectations need to adapt to the child’s personality, history of behavior, decision-making skills and what you know about their friend group. In the end, it is important to help teens slowly gain independence, but you have to judge how much they can handle at a given time.
Madison Clark is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist in private practice in Norman. She specializes in working with families with young children, ages 0-6. She has extensive training in play therapy and enjoys watching parents connect with their children through play.
Jim Priest: As parents, my wife and I followed the general motto of “try to say ‘yes’ as much as possible.” We tried to reserve our “no” for important and rare occasions. But in saying “yes” we talked through both the decision-making process, how they were making the decision, as well as the possible and likely outcomes of the decision. Sometimes we let them try something that we were pretty sure would fail. They learned from their mistakes.
Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 109-year-old non-profit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma’s most vulnerable people. Jim and his wife, Diane, have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, Amanda and Spencer and are owned by a dog named Jeter.
Tamara Walker: As a child becomes a teenager, his need for independence increases and it is very common for parents to worry about how much independence to allow. Teens are capable of taking care of many of their self-care tasks and do not require as much “hands-on” parenting as they once did. However, they still need involved parents who guide them to make smart choices and good decisions.
The rational part of a human brain does not reach full development until the age of 25. This fact, combined with a teen’s need to separate and become independent, can often lead to many struggles between parents and their teens. Parents can help balance this need for independence and the need to provide guidance by communicating openly with their teen and actively listening to him or her. When teens feel “heard” and validated, they are more likely to turn to their parents for advice and guidance.
Talk through situations and scenarios your teen may encounter. Ask her how she would respond and how she would remove herself from that situation. Talk over options. What if a friend tries to talk her into doing something dangerous or illegal? By discussing several options and ideas, you can help your teen make smart choices when they are confronted with situations that could get them into trouble. Raising a teen is no easy task but it can be made easier by keeping the lines of communication open and being there to listen when your teen needs you.
Tamara Walker, R.N. shares her family expertise at MomRN.com and Ask MomRN Show, a weekly online talk show featuring family/parenting, health and family entertainment topics with well-known experts, authors, and celebrity guests. Tamara is a mom of two young adults. She lives with her husband in Edmond.
Greg Gunn: When your children are between 0-5, you are their caretaker. From 5-12, you are the cop. You teach, you train and you discipline. As kids move into the teenage years, you become the coach. These coaching years, between ages 13–17, are when you help balance their independence and responsibilities. As a coach, you should teach, model and encourage. Make your child aware you expect and believe they will do the right thing and make the right choices. Verbalize this often. If they do choose wrong, address it as an isolated incident and let them suffer natural consequences. Don’t take any of their poor choices personally. Keep on encouraging and modeling good choices and focus on a great relationship. Often, teenagers don’t rebel against authority; they rebel against a lack of relationship.
Greg Gunn, founder of Family-iD, is a life coach, pastor, author and speaker from Oklahoma City. Married for 30 years, Greg is a father of seven kids, a father-in-law and a grandfather of two. For 17 years, Greg has led Family Vision Ministries, a ministry that helps families put their purpose on paper and pass it on to future generations.
Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: As your child is maturing into the tween and teen years, it is often the desire for peer connection that drives the desire for independence. Appreciate that developing a social support outside of the family is natural and healthy. Is your pre-teen the last person on the planet to get a cell phone? This is a hot topic for many (P.S. your young person is probably not the last person on the planet to get a cell phone). Establishing boundaries begins with careful parental consideration of how you want the phone to be used, balanced by how and why it is important to your teen. Will your teenager pay for some of the cell phone cost? Is there a data limit? What hours are okay/not okay? Does the phone get charged in a common area? What happens if it gets lost or broken? Thinking about these things proactively is part of helping kids make smarter choices, with the added benefit of demonstrating early on that privileges and responsibilities go together. Once you have established and explained the boundaries of this new freedom it is time to discuss accountability. Will you be monitoring the phone? Is there a consequence for misuse of the phone? Planning ahead for mistakes gives you time with a cool head to choose how you will respond.
Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughters.