Life is challenging for teenagers. Nurture and nourish your teen during this tumultuous time with constant love and support. Rules and boundaries can avert bad habits while solid relationships can support new healthy habits. Bridge the gap with your teen by creating opportunities to connect.
I have a tween girl and a teen girl. My life is filled with raging hormones and hearty laughter and wild mood swings and tender conversations.
The teen years have a bad reputation, but they really aren't that bad. (Here are some more general tips for building a strong bond between parents and teens.)
We need to remember that the teen years include the hardest adjustment of our kids' short lives.
They are growing hair in new places, experiencing unfamiliar hormones, and practicing their independence. Not only that, but they are heavily influenced by their friends and surrounded by school and peer stresses, and they have a new awareness of all that is wrong in the big, wide world.
All this pressure can make it easy for our teens to go astray, losing sight of their goals and values and ending up in uncomfortable or even harmful8 situations.
To keep that from happening, you will need to find creative ways to keep your teen on track.
10 Creative Ways to Keep Your Teen Out of Trouble
1. Help Her Create A Vision Board - Vision boards are great motivational tools since they literally put the things we want right in front of our eyes. Some people like to use Pinterest for vision boards, but in general, I think it's best to print pictures and words or cut them out of magazines.
You and your teen can paste her pictures onto a poster board (for a big vision board) or cardstock (for a smaller one). Or invest in a bulletin board and use fun thumb tacks to attach the pictures and words. (That's what we do in my house because we can change things out as our vision changes, which it inevitably does.) Making a tactile vision board will allow her to hang the board in her room where she'll see it every day.
A vision board is a great idea for any teen (and any adult), not just those who seem to be in trouble.
2. Set rules and establish boundaries - When our kids are little, we expect them to test our boundaries, but it happens anew in the teen years. It's super important to establish rules and stick to them consistently.
- When is it okay to use her phone?
- How late can she stay out with her friends?
- What social media profiles are allowed and how will you monitor them? (Side note, I use Bark for this purpose, and I love it and so do my girls. Bark monitors all online activity for certain categories of questionable content and reports those without actually requiring the parent to look over the shoulder and invade the privacy of the kids. The kids get to maintain their privacy without parental involvement, and the parent gets peace of mind in knowing that sexually suggestive and violent content, as well as bullying and swearing will all be reported. This is not sponsored; I pay for Bark every month.)
- How much talking back will you allow?
- What chores is she responsible for?
- What kind of grades do you expect?
And so on and so on.
I'm not saying that you need to post the rules on the wall like you did when she was little, but it's really important that everyone is on the same page and the rules are enforced predictably, consistently, and fairly.
3. Redirect negative energy in positive ways - Every single person has negative energy. We get mad, frustrated, and frazzled. Teens, being ruled by emotion more than logic, get especially angry. One good way to redirect this negative energy is to encourage (arm twist?) her into sports or martial arts. Just like when she was little, she needs an outlet to physically tire her out. If she's not sporty (I'm not and neither are my girls, so I get it), martial arts might be a good fit. I put both of my girls in taekwondo last year, and while they didn't love it, it did teach them discipline while at the same time give them the ability to punch and kick stuff.
4. Consider a therapist - As a longtime therapy patient, I can vouch for the amazing work a good therapist can help you to do. I believe strongly in the benefits of talk therapy. Teens have big feelings, and those who struggle with their big feelings can really benefit from having an impartial party who will listen without judgement.
I'm not sure about other states, but in Pennsylvania, kids can choose whether or not they want their parents to be involved in their medical decisions at age 14. My teen does allow me to get therapy updates, but she does not allow her dad. I like that our state empowers teens to be responsible for their own care, and I am really glad that she feels comfortable enough in our relationship that she still allows me to be involved.
5. Give Her a Reward to Work Toward - Rewarding your teen for everyday tasks can be hard to accept, but think of how you feel when your boss recognizes your hard work with a kind word or a nice bonus. The rewards make a big difference.
For your teen, a big goal with a big reward can be very motivating. Think about something that's really hard for her and will require a lot of work, like getting on the honor roll or conquering a big challenge, and consider a big reward. It could be anything from a car to a new phone or a new iPad. Or, if finances don't permit something quite that big, it could be a weekend away or a special outing with her friends.
Make the conditions of the reward clear up front and give her something to track her progress with. You might even consider a written contract that you can both sign.
6. Give Her a Break - We all need a break sometimes, and grace is a real thing. Sometimes, the best option to help your teen succeed is to remove her from the situation. Taking a girls weekend to get away from whatever is bothering her will allow her to clear her head and reassess how she has been acting and how things have been going (or not going) for her.
Going on a break away from home is also great for developing a deeper, closer bond with your teen, and that bond is the single most important key to weathering the teen years successfully.
7. Lead by example - Remember when your toddler repeated that salty language you used in front of her? Your teen is watching you just as closely now as that little kid was then. If you have trouble managing your anger or making good decisions, you can't really expect your teen to do better.
If you need to see a therapist to work on your junk, do it. If you need help controlling your temper, find it. If you're struggling with social media addiction, figure out how to stop.
My point is that your kids are going to do exactly what you are doing, so if you are seeing things in them that you don't like, look in the mirror to see what kind of example you're setting.
8. Put Her to Work - One of the reasons that teens get into trouble is boredom. A great way to both teach your teen the value of hard work is to have her get a job.
While it might seem like a drag at first, your teen will love earning her own money because money is the key to true independence.
For kids who don’t want to work in fast food or retail, there are other options: babysitting, lawn care, and dog walking are all great options that don’t involve a fryer.
If your teen does get a job, you will want to help her to open a bank account. This is not only so she can receive her paycheck but also so she can learn how to manage a checking account before she leaves home.
Be sure to actually help her learn how to manage her account and her money rather than leaving her on her own to figure things out (which will be exactly the kind of disaster that it sounds like).
One caution to this suggestion is that you should still pay close attention to the friends she chooses to hang out with. Coworkers may be older (sometimes significantly so) and may have different values than you do. A job is a great option for our teens, and they do need to learn how to choose compatible friends, but just be aware that the job will likely expose her to people she might otherwise not meet.
9. Help her get a volunteer position - If your teen doesn't have a desire to get a paying job, volunteering is another option to keep her busy and help her to learn new skills.
Volunteering is a great option for kids who have interests that aren't conducive to a typical teen job. Organizations like as animal shelters, libraries, and hospitals are always looking for volunteers and will usually allow teens to help out.
In my area, the Agency for the Blind needs people to read into a recorder that its constituents can listen to. They read the newspaper, magazines, and books. It's something your teen could easily do, even if she's not interested in any of the above opportunities.
10. Help Her to Learn Something New - Most teens have at least one thing they want to learn how to do. That thing could be learning to drive or draw, playing an instrument or learning to play a new sport, or learning to code. Learning something new will keep her occupied and out of trouble, and she may surprise you with what she will do with the skill once she learns it.
A word on troubled teens
Teens are going to get into trouble. It is just a part of growing up and should be considered normal.
However, as a parent, it is your job to help guide them away from the kind of trouble that will have lasting effects. Poor grades, drugs and drinking, casual sex, and other reckless behaviors can cause serious problems for your teen now and into her adult life.
It's best to address these behaviors as soon as you see them (or even begin to suspect them). And remember that your teen, while she may get angry and claim to hate you, needs your support and guidance to make any sort of changes in her life.
Having said all that, I think there are plenty of teens who don't rebel or get into serious trouble. If you can develop a deep connection with your teen and set and maintain clear and consistent rules and boundaries, I think you're going to enjoy your kids' teen years. I know I am.