Teenagers are an amazing group of children that need their parents more than ever! The need changes from a less “physical” need to more “emotional” need, which can be a big change from early parenthood years.
We have four children that are now 22, 20, 16, and 14….so each child requires unique needs and nurturing. As a mentor mom to young moms, I turn time and time again to gifting “5 Love Languages for Children” to newer moms navigating parenthood. Years ago, the book’s advice helped me really look at each of my unique children and gave me great handles on ways to show them love and support during this time of adolescence.
Their bodies are changing so much, they have no clue what and how this is all happening, but we are to be their guides and biggest supporters during the greatest changes in their hormonal life.
So WHEN (not if, it’s most certainly when), your teenager flies off the handle over something that isn’t that big of a deal to you…remember, their metabolic changes are real, and they have no idea how to handle these changes.
Here’s a few ways that we supported our kids during transitional times where they were struggling more than usual (new school, new area). Plus, we asked a Phoenix Children’s psychologist to chime in on a few extra tips for supporting this sometimes hard-to-love age group with tangible tips.
“There is so much that is outside of our control these days. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but parents can focus on the things that are within their control: Check in regularly with your child, eat dinner together, give them your full attention everyday (through play or shared activities), develop consistent/predicable routines, and try to develop positive relationships with teachers,” said Dr. Carla Allan, division chief of pediatric psychology at Phoenix Children’s. “And don’t ever be afraid to ask the tough questions. Our kids need to know that we’re there for them. No matter what.
1. Get their bodies moving
When your kids are struggling with a problem, show them how going for run, getting a punching bag, lifting weights and cracking up the music and just sweating for a solid 30 minutes to an hour, helps reduce their anger or anxiety…and gives them an escape to release those emotions in a healthy way.
We made all of our kids participate in a sport (cross country and tennis in middle school for our kids) and then whatever they are interested in high school (sports, marching band, clubs) we encouraged.
2. Lots of drives with your teenagers with no phones
Let it just be the two of you if possible, and just listen and ask a few questions.
Validate their feelings and possibly offer some advice (but really hold your tongue from lecturing) during these times. They need a safe zone to vent about life.
Also, I tell them that I don’t know all the answers, but that I love them and remind them that they are a great kid.
3. Find what they are interested in doing, and do it!
For example, my daughter during her middle school years loved to window shop (I’m not a shopper, AT ALL). We would go to the mall, check out the latest fashion trends, smell candles and lotions in Bath and Body Works (why is this every teenaged girls passion?), walk into Sephora and look at all the different hair and makeup products and just hang out.
I now love to go shopping with her and she is 16. She is the best gift giver, she is so thoughtful and her creativity gets me excited to shop.
My son, Thomas, who just finished junior high in June took up fishing. Backstory: He didn’t really have any close friends, and you don’t want bad friends, so my husband (or sometime me) took him fishing A LOT. We would go after school, or on the weekends to the different ponds and lakes in the area. We would go to Bass Pro Shops and look around because that is what he liked to do.
4. Get them volunteering!
Getting teenagers to serve others really helps to show them that the world is not all about them.
We volunteer every year at our church for vacation bible school (it’s one of our favorite weeks of the year). We also have done Feed My Starving Children, helped with a group called Live Love in Chandler, and volunteered with the senior center. My teenagers have also gone on mission trips to underprivileged areas in the United States and Mexico. We don’t have to look far to lend a hand.
I hope this encourages you in your parenthood journey and gives you some helpful, tangible ways to encourage your teenagers (and survive them!).
5. When and how to get more support
Dr. Allan has advice for parents wondering how to know if their teenager needs extra support with their mental health.
“One of the biggest warning signs that a child might need additional help psychologically is when kids appear to be losing interest in activities and people that they used to care about,” says Dr. Allan. “When there are big changes in how they think, feel, and act, including academic performance – these are all signs that more support could help them.”
Dr. Allan adds that major changes happen to a child’s sleep patterns can be another warning sign for parents. More significant warning signs include social isolation, making statements that the world would be better off without them, and whenever kids express that they’ve thought about how they could end their life.
If your teenager needs more support for their mental health, know that you’re not alone. One in six children experience a mental health disorder every year. Dr. Allan recommends starting with your primary care provider – they know your child and family well.
“Finding mental health professionals can be daunting, but your primary care provider is a great place to start, as is your insurance company’s online directory,” Dr. Allan says. “If you’re ever worried your child is in imminent danger mental health-wise, call 9-1-1. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”