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How Challenging is Parenting Adolescents in the 21st century?

By Mark Amendola, M.S., L.C.S.W.

Developmental needs of adolescents have primarily remained the same over time. What has changed is our culture, social environment, technological, and economic conditions. The search for identity, autonomy, and the need for social connections remain fundamental across time.

Parenting teens can certainly vary based on individual circumstances. There are various practices that are commonsensical and tried-and-true strategies that can help navigate the challenges of adolescence. Always keep in mind that strategies that are effective are the combination of understanding, communication, empathy, and boundary setting.

  1. Develop clear expectations: It is important that children understand what the rules and expectations are of your family. Just as important is the development of both prosocial reinforcement and consequences for role and expectation violations.
  2. Open communication: Develop a relationship where your child feels comfortable discussing their thoughts and feelings. For them to develop those skills it is important that parents model prosocial behaviors, especially those that call for the need to show restraint – both emotionally and physically.
  3. Model prosocial healthy behavior: It is important to model the behavior that you expect to see in your child. Your children are constantly evaluating your words and behavior. It’s more likely that they will pay close attention to your behavior as compared to your words.
  4. Foster decision-making skills and encourage independence: Create opportunities for your child that will encourage critical thinking and allow for space to develop independent skills.
  5. Develop healthy boundaries: A parent’s role is to parent and the children’s role is to be a child. Parents need to set healthy boundaries so their children can clearly understand what those boundaries are.
  6. Manage social media (as best you can): The issue of social media is not new. Fifteen years ago, when my two adult sons were in high school, they would be sitting in our living room with friends and texting each other instead of physically talking to each other, making eye contact, and evaluating voice inflections and facial features. As challenging as it is to shield your child from external variables, there are still tools that will allow you to manage some of that activity.
  7. Model Empathic Behavior: It is important for children to observe and experience empathy. We can teach empathy to our children, and adults need to model empathic behavior rather than develop judgements, to create healthy relationships.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that parents of adolescents face today is the rapid change in all things related to technology. How do you harness these changes to improve your and your children’s lives? Will Artificial Intelligence enhance your children’s education or hinder it? By age, what is the appropriate amount of screen time? What games should they be allowed to play? Some of the answers to these dilemmas are personal judgements. Others can only be found through diligent and constant research. Many technological advances have made it much easier to parent adolescents. Here are several ways in which they have made it easier for parents:

  1. Communication: Technology allows parents to stay in constant communication with their adolescents. Whether through text messages, phone calls, or video chats, parents can easily check in on their children and maintain a sense of connection, even when physically apart.
  2. Information and Resources: Parents can access a wealth of information online about parenting techniques, adolescent development, and various challenges that may arise. Social media platforms also provide opportunities for parents to join online communities, share experiences, and learn from one another.
  3. Monitoring and Tracking: Parents can use technology to monitor their adolescents’ activities and whereabouts. This includes GPS tracking, location-sharing apps, and monitoring software that allows parents to keep an eye on their child’s online activities and screen time.

Parents should be parents, and children will challenge their parents. The three strategies will assist parents to maneuver waters that are not always so clear. Technology certainly creates challenges to this but also offers many opportunities.

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