As you can probably imagine, working with teenagers exposes me to a lot of unique conversations and social situations. The teenage years are a vital time in a child’s life. This is the point where they come to a fork in the road and have to decide which path they want to take.

Both paths are extensions of their unique childhood experiences, which means that one path will feel right but for all of the wrong and risky reasons, while the other path will feel right for all of the safe or boring reasons.

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During this period of uncertainty, kids are struggling to find their unique place in the world and are looking for ways to “stand out” in the crowd. Because of this, that risky path can look extremely appealing.

As a school administrator, my school counselor and I spend a ton of time just talking to kids and helping them work through all of the social complexities of their teenage years.

We work hard to help guide them down the appropriate fork in the road.

Part of this process is meeting regularly with parents and trying to come up with ways that we can work with them and help support them as they work to build solid foundations for their kids to begin living their own lives on. These parent conversations are extremely insightful for me because they often explain where some kids get certain behaviors from.

There are times I leave those conversations feeling confident that the parent has this under control and then there are times I leave knowing that this child’s behavior is a product of their environment and we need to help educate the parents before we will see any significant changes in their student.

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Parenting is already hard enough, and when you sprinkle some teenager into the mix it can feel pretty impossible. So here are five tips to help you keep from banging your head into a brick wall when dealing with your teenagers:

1. Stay positive.

Teenagers are bombarded with pressure and unreasonable expectations from all aspects of their lives (friends, social media, athletics, etc.). As parents, we need to find ways to focus on what is working and where they are getting things right even in times of difficulty. Kids need to know they can trust you even when they have messed up. This helps you as a parent maintain a positive relationship with your child and helps them develop the growth-mindset necessary to handle failure as an adult.

2. Don’t get bogged down with the small stuff.

There are plenty of “hills” to climb when parenting a teenager so you have to be very intentional about picking which ones you are “willing to die on.” If you try to micro-manage every behavior that does not perfectly line up with your expectations, then you will risk causing serious damage to the relationship. Remember, the teenage years are just a phase and kids will mature out of a lot of this stuff. Take time to really reflect on which behaviors have the potential to turn into something more serious and focus on those.

3. Create opportunities for healthy risk-taking.

This is absolutely necessary to help your child build confidence. It is very easy to unintentionally shelter our kids from all of the things that could potentially hurt them both physically or emotionally, but this does nothing to help strengthen their resiliency. There is plenty of research out there that defines resiliency as a key characteristic of successful people, and exposing kids to new and risky experiences is the best way to jump-start this process.

This also has the added benefit of helping them latch onto healthy activities that can give them that sense of uniqueness or “standing out in the crowd” that they are craving at this age.

You have heard the quote that “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” This is your opportunity to put your child into a rough sea and stand beside them as they learn to become a skilled sailor.

4. Be steady.

Set expectations and boundaries early and often, then stay consistent in how you enforce those expectations. Work together to create a system of consequences for when those expectations are broken.  Remember, consequences are different than punishment. Consequences are determined ahead of time and should not catch your teenager off guard.  Do you want to risk damaging your relationship with your child? Throw a hand grenade into an already volatile situation and see what happens. Steadiness and consistency send a much stronger message in these situations.

5. Don’t take things personally.

This might be the most important thing on this list. Your teenager may dislike you in the moment, but they don’t hate you. Their emotions are raging and their adrenaline is pumping and in moments of conflict, they are willing to say or do whatever they can to get under your skin and make themselves feel like the victim. The less you yell the louder they will yell, but they will eventually calm down and they will eventually feel the ways their words might have hurt you. In these moments, it is absolutely necessary that you interact with your teenager instead of react to them.

The teenage years can be heavy years for parents. There are no formulas for success or right and wrong answers. Every teenager is different and will have different needs.

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As parents, our goal during these years is to guide our teenagers through the turmoil and uncertainty of the times while cultivating them into the best people possible.

Always remember that you are not alone and that no one is ever lost, no matter how far away they might feel. And if you aren’t sure where to start, just pick one of the tips above and go from there.

You can do this.

Chris Cochran

Father, husband, amateur adventurer, aspiring creative, lover of mountains, and explorer of the human experience. School leader living in Northwest Arkansas. Drinks coffee all day.