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Helping Your Teenager Make Wise Choices

Teenage daughter hugging her mother

A big concern for many parents or guardians is figuring out how to survive a child’s teenage years. These typically tumultuous years are about a lot of experimentation for teenagers as they try to figure out who they’re going to become as they leave overt childhood behind. Emotional volatility seems to be almost required for teenagers and as a result trying to help doesn’t always go as planned. That doesn’t stop any of us from wanting to help the teenagers in our lives to make the right decisions. After all, it seems so much easier to give a bit of friendly advice or to do something “for their own good” than let them have similar regrets in life. The sad fact is that such approaches don’t always work and can end up backfiring. It is possible to help encourage good decision making though. You simply need to be careful about and work to help create an environment when you’re trusted and valued as a source of advice that the teenager will come to when they want advice.

Establish Trust
These days we have an endless amount of technological devices that can help us keep track of what is going on in teenager’s lives. Tracking their phone, family locks, master passwords, and even devices that record their activity on their own computer. It is understandably tempting to reach for all of these when they promise an easy way to be able to know when to encourage certain behaviors and when to stop others. Unfortunately, these methods are the fastest ways to sow distrust and enmity between you and any teenagers or children you use them on. It takes away their ability choose, their privacy, and their sense of autonomy. To get a teenager’s trust, you must give it to them. Yes, they are your child or ward, but they’re growing up and learning to trust them as they grow and test their limits is your own test. Make it clear you’re available for them to talk to privately and without judgment while not harming their trust in you. This will make them more likely to come to you.

Offer Cover When Needed
One of the things we tend to do when in haste to ensure teenagers don’t make bad decisions is tell them what they can and can’t do. Unfortunately, the emotional volatility tends to lead to defiance for the sake of defiance. It is far better to establish a quiet, covert way for a teenager to escape a situation they become uncomfortable in. This concept has been appearing on parenting blogs around the internet for a couple of years now, but the idea, in brief, is that you make sure that your children trust you and know they don’t need to stay in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. An agreed upon signal allows them to covertly give you a sign that they want to get out of an uncomfortable situation and you respond by fabricating a situation that demands their immediate removal from the situation by calling a few minutes later. In exchange for offering a way out, you are to ask no questions of the teen in question and demonstrate the trust that has been suggested before. This will help to keep building that trust and ensure the teen can make decisions in situations where they might otherwise feel pressured.

Support Them
These last two bits of advice technically all splinter off from the idea that you need to support a teenager to ensure that they will feel confident enough to make decisions and trust enough to ask for advice. Supporting them as they explore who they are and the boundaries they feel comfortable pushing is necessary to ensure a healthy relationship. That healthy relationship is in turn what enables all other forms of helping the teenager to make good decisions. By no means does this mean being permissive, but it does mean talking to them like they’re people rather than children and being honest about some of the difficult choices that might come up at their age. Alerting them to things to watch out for and encouraging them to think about what they might do can help them to be better prepared for some situations. We cannot hold on to their childhood forever and must meet them halfway on their journey towards who they will become to ensure they can make positive decisions.

Heavy-handed and controlling approaches to “helping” teenagers make the right choices are almost inevitably doomed to fail. What actually works is cultivating a relationship based on trust with teens and allowing them the flexibility to move as they wish. Giving them a further set of options to defy situations where they feel they have none will help them to feel more confident in asserting themselves in situations that move outside their comfort levels. Building this relationship of trust and support will not only help bring you closer but also help you begin to learn about who your child or ward is becoming.

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