Your oh-so-grown-up child is less independent than she seems—here’s what she’s still relying on you to provide.
Teens need 1-on-1 time with you.
Yes, it can seem like you’re the last person your child wants to pass the time with, but that’s not true, Gold says. Look for lulls in your teen’s busy social schedule: “Maybe they weren’t invited somewhere and they’re not going to say that to you, but they could be suffering, so you make the plans,” Gold explains. Even if they weren’t snubbed, teens often don’t like being alone, and could be up for a little company. You can also make a ritual to spend time together at a certain time each week, such as Sunday nights.
Spending time together isn’t just nice for the two of you, it has important developmental benefits for your teen. “Obviously, for a toddler you need to be there to say things like ‘Don’t touch the flame!’ But for a teenager you need to be there not only to teach appropriate social behavior and values and model them, but to help them decode what they’re seeing,” Gold says.
Teens need help understanding social media.
Speaking of things your teen may need your assistance in decoding, social media tops the list, Gold says. “For kids on social media, they need to know that this is a fictitious life, not real life,” she explains. “Nobody puts their bad days on social media! Nobody puts their fights with pimples on there. It’s a curated, fake reality—everyone is just putting the best of themselves out there, so don’t let it make you feel bad.”
If your teen is often down because she finds out via social media that she wasn’t invited somewhere with pals, or because her posts got too few likes, it may be time for a social media break. Gold’s own 13-year-old is only allowed to use Snapchat. “That still has the ability to make you say ‘OMG I missed that party, it stinks that I wasn’t invited,’ but that’s gone after twenty-four hours,” Gold says. “Not all kids need social media. They’re not dying without Instagram. They’re not dying without Facebook.”
Teens need hard-and-fast rules and limits.
Oh, we know you’re going to get some major eye rolls when you say, “Be home before ten!” or “No walking home from that party alone!” but that’s no reason to hold back. “It’s for safety, really,” Dr. Rustomji says. “Adolescents are more risk-taking. They tend to want to do things that give them thrills and give them excitement, and sometimes that behavior leads to maladaptive behavior like drugs and alcohol and unsafe sex. So this is a time when it’s really important for parents to set those limits to protect their child and keep them safe.”
It’s also helpful to walk through some sticky scenarios ahead of time. Pose questions to your teen, like, “If someone is drinking at a party and wants you to drink too, how do you say no?” or “If someone gets drunk, what do you do?” Again, your teen may think it’s silly, but try anyway. “If your family has a certain set of values that you want to impart in your children, just make those clear,” Dr. Rustomji says. “And also tell your teen why. Young people want to understand why. And when we just set ultimatums or hard-and-fast rules, they don’t understand them.”
Reassure your teens that you’re always there for them.
“It’s important to tell teens ‘Hey, you’re growing, you’re maturing and because of that you get to go to the mall, you get to go out, but we’re still here to help you,’” Gold says. And it’s even more crucial to make that clear when you and your teen are fighting, she adds. “[Tell your teen] ‘You can yell at me and scream at me, but I’m never going away,’” she urges. “That’s what unconditional love is…there’s nothing you can do that will make me go away.”
Teens need your apologies (when appropriate).
Did you lose control and scream at your teen? “That happens, it’s normal,” Gold says. “What are you going to do about it now? Recover and say you’re sorry. Teach your child how to say you’re sorry…those are teachable moments.” Not only will your child learn it’s right for people to apologize when they’re wrong, he’ll also learn that nobody’s perfect.
Most of all, teens need your love.
“Teens need holding, as silly as it sounds,” Gold says. “I like to spoon my 13-year-old for ten minutes a night, and we talk about what happened during the day, and she loves it.” So go ahead, give your big kid a hug. Who knows? You might even get a hug back.