Most parents know the frustration of sparring with teenagers. But some have special challenges with troubled teens who seem to be bend on self destruction. Many of these parents find themselves asking, "Where did I go wrong?" The truth is there's no magic spell that can guarantee your kids go through their teen years happily. There are programs to help troubled teens. But there are things you can do early to forge a strong relationship that will be more likely to endure when life gets most difficult for your kids. Here are a few tips that may help.
Spend time with them
Teens have a hard time relating to adults to begin with, but if they feel like you don't know them, it's near impossible to get them to trust you. It will help if while they were excited to have you around you took the opportunity to spend time with them - time in which you're actually doing something. Give them birthday parties, vacations, and days in the park talking to remember. Being in the same house while they watch Saturday morning cartoons doesn't count - unless you're watching with them and talking during the commercials.
Keep promises to them
For whatever reason, many parents think a promise to their own kids is less binding than to other people. Don't believe this. If you promise to take them to the Kangaroo Zoo bounce house for a party it better take a substantial emergency to stop you from keeping your promise. Kids learn quickly, and if you establish a pattern of telling your kids one thing and doing another they're going to stop trusting your word. If this is your relationship when they're teens, good luck getting them put any stock in what you say.
Listen to them
It's easy to get into the habit of replacing actual listening with, "uh huh, yep, uh huh" while you're kids are young. As they get older they will tell you who they are if you're really listening. Unfortunately, many parents are too concerned with whether their kids are doing what they're supposed to do to get to know them. Give your kids confidence that when they come to you with a serious issue, you won't immediately get angry or judgmental. They may take that when they're eight, but as teenagers they'll learn to resent it and to resent you.
Treat them with respect
Much of this boils down to respect. A parent's job is to love, teach, and protect. Don't confuse that with complete authority. Even small children can aggressively assert their independence. The key is to find a middle ground where they feel they have some control without endangering themselves or others. It's a parent's job to find that balance. A teenager trying to assert independence is not much different. But it can be much more difficult if you're still trying to hold tight on the reigns. Realize your children are individuals who won't easily fit into an ideal mold. Treat them as individuals to whom you owe love and protection, but also respect.
Your kids may not always make the decisions that are in their best interest. They may go off the deep end with self destructive behavior. In these cases there are still ways to help. White River Academy is one that specializes in helping teens in this dilemma to improve their self concept and find better ways to express themselves. Either way it's important for parents to never give up on their kids. This may include tough love and simply being there for them when they're ready to come back.