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Parents I see in therapy seem to constantly be second guessing themselves and the way they parent.
As a mum, I too have been guilty of this; “Was I too strict?”, “Should I be more lenient next time?”, “Do I follow behind and help him?”, “Did I give her too much autonomy?”. These are dilemmas that every parent faces, and parents of teens seem to face these issues even more often.
But, what if I told you that both ends of these seemingly opposite spectrums could be true. Yes, you may be too lenient at times and too strict at others. Yes you may be holding on to your teen a bit too tight but at the same time allowing too much independence. Yes you can be trying your hardest as a parent but still have room to change and improve.
Dealing with these dilemmas is coming to an understanding that there is no one right way. When parents box themselves into ‘either-or’ type thinking then they will never be happy with the way they parent. I try to encourage parents to have ‘both-and’ thinking where multiple things can be right and helpful at the same time.
The key to parenting teens is finding a middle ground with these dilemmas, however that’s not to say that finding this middle ground is easy – this is where the balancing act begins! I often have an image of a scale in my mind where parents are trying to balance both sides and just as they finally do manage, it seems like a new issue or difficulty is thrown on top!
A very helpful way of trying to balance these scales comes from Dialetical Behaviour Therapy which talks about a middle path of parenting. Go through the list below of the three main areas that parents struggle to find balance with and see whether these are your hot spots of difficulty with your teenager too.
Being too ‘loose’ vs. being too strict
This is such a common struggle for parents, and not just for parents of teenagers! To find the middle path with this dilemma, you need to have two goals in mind: 1) Have clear and consistent rules with your children and 2) Be willing to discuss and negotiate on some issues.
Not taking problem behaviours seriously enough vs. making too much of typical adolescent behaviours
To navigate this dilemma it’s important to have an understanding of normal adolescent boundary pushing and what behaviours cross a line. Talking with friends, teachers and your partner is critical in determining what is expected and what may be problematic.
Holding on too tight vs. forcing independence
I think this is probably the most common struggle for parents of teens. You want them to grow into independent adults but you’re still their parent and feel yourself wanting to hold on to them! Aim to give your child guidance and support to work out how to be responsible while slowly giving them increased independence.
Parenting teenagers is by no means easy, it can sometimes feel like a constant balancing act but to find the middle path for your family, remember that you need to simultaneously accept the great parts about how you parent while also thinking about areas that need change.
Stefanie Schwartz is a Child & Adolescent Clinical Psychologist & founder of GroupWorx Psychology. GroupWorx offers bulk billed group therapy programs for children in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and FREE online child psychology advice. Visit www.groupworx.com.au for more information