When you have kids, you know that being a parent is the most rewarding and important job you’ll ever have. It’s also the most difficult. However, while the memory of sleepless nights with a newborn or sky-rending toddler tantrums can cause you to break out into a cold sweat, it probably wasn’t until your kid became a teenager that you truly learned just how hard parenting can be.
No matter how challenging, though, a parent never stops fighting for their child, even when the child has entered the terrible teens — the only difference is the tactics you might use. In fact, it is possible to advocate for your adolescent child without undermining their emerging independence or overstepping their boundaries.
Be Respectful of Your Child’s Increasing Independence
One of the hardest things about being the parent of a teenager is recognizing how rapidly, and how much, they are growing up. Chances are, when you look at them, you still see the tiny baby who needed you to make all their decisions and fight all their battles for them.
The reality, though, is that by the time your child enters their teen years, they’ve already done a lot of living, and they need the freedom to use those life experiences to build a new identity, to begin making the transition into responsible adulthood.
What that means is that, in a lot of cases, one of the best ways to advocate for your teenager is not to advocate for them at all or, at least, not to take the lead in this. Instead, your best role will likely be that of the guide on the side. Advise them. Support them. But, above all, let them take charge and figure things out for themselves.
When you do this, you’re going to be teaching a lot of critical life lessons at once. In much the same way that you helped them learn to be more independent when they were young, enabling your teen to take control when they’re facing an obstacle or they’ve made a mistake helps them to develop the essential character traits they’ll need for the next stage of their development: adulthood. They’ll learn self-confidence, competence, and accountability.
Of course, by serving as an advisor and supporter, they’ll also be reminded of another important truth — that no matter how old they get, you will always be there with a shoulder to lean on, a backbone to shore them up, and a word to guide them.
Advocating by Dialoguing
When your teenager needs some support, often one of the best things you can do is not to talk but rather to listen. No one knows better than a parent that today’s teenagers face challenges that the children of previous generations simply cannot fathom.
For example, while substance abuse is by no means unique to the rising generation, the prevalence is profound and the risk to our youth is great. This means that you need to start having some potentially difficult conversations about drugs and alcohol early on.
Above all, you’ll need to keep those dialogues flowing throughout your child’s adolescence, even when it seems that they have a handle on things and maybe are beyond the danger zone. Even your college-aged children will benefit from the ability to speak candidly about these very real issues with the people who love them most in the world.
In addition to dialoguing with your teen about physical threats, such as drugs and alcohol, it’s also important to open the lines of communication about skills they’ll need to succeed in life. One of the most important ongoing conversations to have with your kid is in the domain of finances.
Strangely, money management is a lesson that is often disregarded in both homes and schools alike, and yet it’s among the most impactful for your child’s future. So make sure that you’re advocating for your child’s future security by teaching them to be financially savvy, from making a budget and balancing a checkbook to saving and investing for the future.
Advocating by Role-Modelling
Today’s adolescents have a lot to deal with. They’ve come of age during the era of social media, a reality that has taken a profound toll on the mental health of our kids. From cyberbullying to body image issues, the ubiquity of social media has had a deep and often highly detrimental impact on our children’s psychological wellbeing.
As if that weren’t enough, though, today’s teens have also had to face their formative years under the shadow of the worst public health crisis in modern history. That means that our kids have missed out on important developmental milestones. They’ve been isolated. They’ve lost the all-importance sense of security and normalcy that kids need to thrive and grow.
With this in mind, another powerful way to advocate for your teen is to role model practices that prioritize and nurture mental health. Take up yoga or start meditating and invite your child to join in. Similarly, if you or your child need a bit of extra support, then encourage your child to seek the help of a professional or let them know if you are seeking care yourself.
After all, you are your child’s best role model, no matter how old they are. If they see you taking care of your mental health, they’re far more likely to follow suit.
Being the parent of a teen is not easy, but it is possible to continue to advocate for your child, even as they grow up. It just takes a bit of strategy, from allowing them to take the lead to engaging in dialogue with them, and role modeling for them.