Five Ways to Nurture the ‘Inner Adult’ in Your Teen

These and seven other important skills for parenting teens are discussed in detail in my book “Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families From the Torment of Adolescence.”

1. Encourage decision making. Two of the most important words you can say to your teen are “you decide.” By the time your teen is in high school, he or she should be encouraged to make decisions about virtually everything — yes, even about education, religion, medical treatment, sex and alcohol. (See my “Young Person’s Bill of Rights” at Teen20.com.) When you show that you trust your teen’s decisions, he or she will almost certainly make better ones and will also be more receptive to your input. When you are controlling, all of the outcomes are damaging: The behavior you are trying to restrict is driven underground, your teen becomes even more rebellious, and your relationship becomes adversarial rather than loving. Will some of your teen’s decisions be bad? Of course. All adults, young and old, make bad decisions. When things go wrong, it’s your job to provide loving support, just as you would for any person you care about.

2. Help your teen take on real responsibilities. Research in multiple fields shows that when young people are given meaningful responsibilities — the kind of thing that happens sometimes when a parent dies — their inner adult awakens quickly. The Dalai Lama was 15 when he assumed full control over Tibet. The ancient king Josiah, who came to power when he was 8, accomplished great things in his youth, such as restoring the observance of Passover to Judea. Encourage your teen to work side by side with responsible adults who are doing important things, the more important and meaningful the better. Programs that apprentice teens to plumbers, electricians and other skilled tradespeople can instill a sense of pride in a teen’s life.

3. Don’t ever underestimate your teen’s capabilities or potential. Instead, focus on and help nurture the strengths you see. Unfortunately, our culture is quick to underestimate what teens can do. Young people between ages 13-17 score about the same as older adults do on a fairly comprehensive test of adult competence I developed with Diane Dumas — about 90 percent correct. But adults estimate that teens will score only 48 percent on this test. You and your teen can duel over this issue at HowAdultAreYou.com.

4. Respect your teen’s romantic feelings. There is no evidence that the romantic feelings of teens are any different than the romantic feelings experienced by older adults, and statistics said to show that young love is doomed to failure have been greatly exaggerated. Many celebrated long-term relationships began when one or both partners were very young — Charlie Chaplin and Oona O’Neill, George and Barbara Bush, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. In spite of what the song says, young love has never been “puppy” love, because puppies have not yet reached puberty.

5. Watch your language. Speaking of puppies, if your teen has to keep reminding you that he or she is no longer a child, you are doing something wrong. As soon as your teen is capable of having children, he or she is no longer a “boy,” “girl,” “child” or “kid,” and referring to young adults with such language is demeaning.

— R.E.

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