During this time of trial and error, offer open, positive communication while providing clear and fair rules and consistent guidance. You significantly influence your adolescent's habits and attitudes, choices, and adjustments to physical changes. But realize that your child's way of doing things does not have to exactly match your own.
Help your child identify important issues and be prepared for increasing responsibilities. Allow your child the freedom to figure things out in his or her own way within the boundaries you have set. Parents walk a fine line between respecting a teen's need for independence and privacy and making sure that he or she does not make mistakes that have lifelong consequences.
Did You Know?
Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, to children and teens. Learn more.
Promote a healthy body image. Help your adolescent recognize that the media often produce unrealistic and unattainable images of the ideal body. Stress the importance of being healthy, rather than looking "skinny" or "buff." Be aware of the things you say about how you and other people look.
Recognize changing sleep patterns. Rapidly growing and busy adolescents need a lot of sleep. Beginning sometime in adolescence, your child's natural sleeping pattern may gradually shift. Many adolescents start going to bed later at night and sleeping in. This pattern can make it hard to get up for school. To help your adolescent get enough rest, discourage phone and computer use and TV-watching after a certain evening hour.
Help your teen who is using drugs or alcohol. If you believe your adolescent is using drugs or alcohol, talk about it with him or her. Discuss how he or she gets the alcohol, tobacco, or drugs and in what kind of setting they are used. Seek advice from a doctor if the behavior continues.
Address problems and concerns. Building trust gradually will help your adolescent feel safe in talking with you about sensitive subjects. When trying to talk with your adolescent about problems or concerns, schedule a "date" in a private and quiet place. Be ready to deflect questions you aren't prepared to answer, and make sure to follow through. For example, you may say, "You know, this is so important that I need a little time to think about it. Can we discuss it later?" Then set a specific time and place to further discuss that issue.
Prevent involvement in violence. Be a good role model for how to handle disagreements, such as by talking calmly. Help your child come up with ways to defuse potentially violent situations, such as making a joke or acknowledging another person's point of view. Praise him or her for successfully avoiding a confrontation, such as by saying, "I'm proud of you for staying calm." Closely supervise the websites and computer games that your child uses. Talk to your child about healthy relationships. Dating abuse is common among preteens and teens. For more information on teen violence, see the Other Places to Get Help section of this topic.
Recognize the warning signs of suicide. To reduce suicide risk, prepare your child for the emotional upheavals that sometimes occur between the ages of 11 and 14 years. Offer suggestions on how to handle feelings of inadequacy or sadness, such as keeping a journal, volunteering, and getting adequate rest and exercise. If your child shows signs of depression, such as withdrawing from others and being sad much of the time, talk about it and get help from a doctor if it does not improve. Also call your doctor if your child ever mentions suicide or if you are concerned for his or her safety. After puberty, depression occurs twice as often in girls as in boys.