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The Next Phase

Important moments for parents of teens

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From, “What to Expect When You are Expecting,” to an arsenal of books claiming to have the answers when it comes to raising young children, parents may be overwhelmed with parenting information the moment they find out baby is on the way. But what happens when that child sheds their babyface for stubble or budding breasts? Suddenly the faucet of commercialized knowledge shuts off, and parents are left to navigate the murky waters of adolescence alone.

While there is no one right way to parent a teen, there are important times in an adolescent’s development when parents need to be present and prepared. The following are five of those moments with tips on how parents can show up in a way that helps their teen feel supported while building a bond with them.

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Drugs and alcohol

At some point, your teen will be offered or seek out the opportunity to consume drugs and alcohol. Parents’ common reactions to this topic are either denial, “My child would never…” or a move to swift and severe punishment.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests taking a different approach. Instead, communicate with your child early in their adolescent development. Talk to them about the consequences of consumption at a young age, both physical and legal. As they make their way through their teen years, ask them open-ended questions about their experiences and create an environment that makes them feel safe coming to you with questions and their experiences. If you plan to implement consequences, agree on what they will be with your child ahead of time.

Gender identity

Finding out the gender of your child is one of the most exciting moments of a new parent’s life, so when your child comes to you either with questions or declarations about their gender identity (the gender they perceive themselves to be), it can be confusing. For many parents, the idea that gender is fluid or that their child may one day identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth is difficult to understand. Get familiar with the following (and additional) gender terms in advance: non-binary, agender, bigender, and gender-fluid.

Sexuality

Your child’s sexuality (romantic or sexual attraction to others) will be developing fast. The most important thing a parent can do for their child at this time is to create an environment of acceptance, open communication and support. Don’t assume your child’s sexual orientation before they’ve had an opportunity to explore and discover it. Educate yourself on the topic and seek support if needed.

Sex

A parent’s role in educating their child about sex is essential. It’s your job to make sure your child gets accurate information about sex and sexual relationships. Make sure they are comfortable coming to you with questions both before and after they start having sex. Along with the “how babies are made” talk, make sure your teen understands what healthy, respectful and consensual sex looks and feels like. Address pregnancy, STDs and STIs by providing factual information about prevention and treatment along with information on where your teen can go for sexual health services.

Safety

Safety is the single biggest concern parents have when it comes to the teen years. As your child ages, they become independent, and you have less control over what happens when they are away from you. The most important thing a parent can do during these years is to become the person they turn to for information, support and help in dangerous situations. Become the person they want to call when they’ve had a drink and need to get home. Become the person they lean on when they are questioning their gender or sexuality and experiencing depression. 

Becoming the person your child turns to in the most physically, mentally and emotionally treacherous moments they face during their teen years requires removing judgment and shame from your relationship. It means educating yourself on the developmental and situational experiences they will be faced with and being prepared to offer acceptance and unconditional love even when moments arise that differ from the expectations you had when your teen was first born. Daily meditation and a shot of tequila now and then definitely don’t hurt, either. 


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