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Written by Elisabeth Lee

Dear teenager,

What is happening!?!

Love, Mom

Imagine your student sitting on a trampoline one lovely day in spring. They spread out their Legos to build houses and cars. All of a sudden, ten of the neighborhood kids run over and climb on. They jump and jump and jump around her sending the Legos flying every which way. The disruption causes chaos for her and you.

This moment is what puberty can feel like when it visits your student because the onset of puberty marks the fastest body growth ever outside of birth to two years old.

Every day a teenager wakes up with a surge of emotions and the chaos they feel inside is felt by everyone living under your roof. The years to follow can become tumultuous for the entire family, but your teenager’s emotional turmoil does not have to set the emotional climate for the home.

The teenager needs the freedom to wade in the emotional pool to learn how to handle them well. But, believe it or not, this opportunity is an invitation for parents to engage in a healthy relationship.

Here are five ways to create a steady and stable home throughout the teenage years.

1. DEFINE A PLAN

If you parent with a spouse, define a parenting plan together. Multiple personalities are at play, so find a plan that works best for your family dynamic. Discuss future responses to specific emotions such as fear, sadness, joy, shame, anger, etc.

You will be surprised at how your brain will apply them in the heat of the moment. A simple, general action step goes a long way.

A few examples:

  • When our daughter rages at the parent, the parent will calmly say, “I want to keep speaking with you, but if the yelling continues, I need to step away, but I will return.”

Why: If the parent yells at the emotionally unstable teenager, the parent becomes the object of the teenager’s wrath instead of the problem itself. We want our daughter to focus on the issue at hand to grow.

Help: If I am unable to speak calmly, I will tap out with my spouse.

  • We will speak with our son this week about how he may or may not feel unexpectedly sad at times. We will tell him this experience is developmentally appropriate and encourage him to find an outlet to express sadness healthily.

Why: With open lines of conversation, we have the opportunity to spot depression or apathy sooner, and he needs productive outlets to release emotions no questions asked.

2. EMPATHY

Empathy for your teenager opens their heart to hear what you have to say. Shame, guilt, anger, or control triggers the heart to close blocking the ability to listen.

To find empathy, reflect on your teenage years.

What did you think or feel at their age?

What did you wish your parents understood?

Share with them a memory, feeling, or thought you had at their age.

Have empathy for yourself and grant kindness when you make a mistake. Admit and apologize when the time is right. A parent’s humility goes a long way with a teenager.

3. COMMUNICATION

Your teenager knows something is up with their body. They feel crazy on the inside and out with all the changes emotionally, physically and mentally. If you give them a sneak peek into adolescent development, they can be kind to themselves, understand what is happening, and be more likely to ask for help.

Rather than create a lengthy, sit down, talk with pamphlets from a pediatrician’s office, work the conversation in as you go about errands or activities: a drive to Sonic after school, a ride home from a friend’s house, walk the dog, play PS4, etc. Try to have side-by-side discussions because talking puberty can be slightly awkward for everyone involved.

4. COMMUNITY

Parenting a teenager can be very lonely. When teenagers experience a rush of emotions, they need the space to decipher the new code. Sometimes their decisions do not align with the parent’s values or morals.

When these moments occur (not if), parents need a safe place to express their thoughts and feelings without feeling judged or corrected. Find a trustworthy, honest friend to share the moments of vulnerability.

You only need one or two friends to “hold space” to eliminate the shame that festers within isolation.

5. DEFINE LIMITS

Take a moment, whether it be on your commute or while cooking dinner, to define what you “are okay with” and “not okay with.”

For example, “I am okay with the actions of my daughter when she asks for space away from the family as long as she does it respectfully in her anger. I am not okay if she hits, slams, or makes personal, derogatory comments in her anger. If she crosses the limit, the natural consequence is…”

Define limits ahead of time and communicate to your teenager often.

A parent’s love is based on the teenager themselves, not on what they do or not do.

When you express your limits, make sure to list the action that causes the consequence. They need to hear you love them no matter what.

Reassure them you are not going anywhere and, at the same time, there are limits in the home that must be respected. They want peace too; they just have an emotional flurry going on inside. Consistent, developmentally appropriate limits bring safety to your teenager.

Emotional outbursts are normal and healthy developments of adolescence, but they are not a free pass to say and do whatever they want whenever they want.

Teenagers need guidance to the emotional firework package puberty laid in their hands.

Find a few moments with yourself and your spouse to reflect on these five ways to create a steady and stable home.

They will remember how their parents’ unconditional support was like a lighthouse amidst their fury of emotional waters.

The emotional labor will be hard work, but a relationship with your teenager is worth it.

Elisabeth is a sweet and spunky self-declared experimenter and hopeless romantic with a dilettante pursuit of interior design, macro nature photography and magazine design. Her days are spent as a freelance writer and editor, helping people reclaim power after experiencing spiritual misuse, and as the Executive Director of the non-profit Sacred Space. She loves being a woman, artist, athlete, wife, mother, and friend. Interests that peak her are traveling, good storytelling, emotional intelligence, and artisan papers.

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