You can help your teen between the ages of 15 and 18 years by using basic parenting strategies. These include offering open, positive communication while providing clear and fair rules and consistent guidance. Support your teen in developing healthy habits and attitudes, help him or her make wise choices, and offer guidance in how to balance responsibilities.
The following are examples of ways to promote healthy growth and development in specific areas. But remember that many growth and development issues overlap. For example, having a healthy body image is important for physical development and emotional development. Use these ideas as a starting point to help your teen make good choices that will help him or her grow into a healthy and happy adult.
Promote your teen's physical development by doing the following:
- Be aware of changing sleep patterns. Rapidly growing and busy teens need a lot of sleep. The natural sleeping pattern for many teens is to go to bed later at night and sleep in. This can make it hard to get up for school. To help your teen get enough rest, discourage phone and computer use and TV watching after a certain evening hour.
- Teach your teen how to take care of his or her skin. Most young people get at least mild acne. Help your teen manage acne with daily facial care and, if needed, medicines. Also have your teen avoid sunbathing and tanning salons. Sunburn can damage a child's skin for a lifetime and put him or her at risk for skin cancer. Studies suggest that UV rays from artificial sources such as tanning beds and sunlamps are just as dangerous as UV rays from the sun. For more information, see the topics Acne and Skin Cancer, Melanoma.
- Talk about body image. What teens think about their bodies greatly affects their feelings of self-worth. Stress that healthy eating and exercise habits are most important for the short and long term. Help your teen recognize that television and other media often produce unrealistic images of the ideal body that are not healthy. For more information, see the topic Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, or Depression in Children and Teens.
- Help your teen choose healthy foods . By eating a wide variety of basic foods, your teen can get the nutrients he or she needs for normal growth. And he or she will be well-nourished. Help your teen choose healthy snacks, make wise food choices at fast food restaurants, and not skip meals, especially breakfast. Make a point to eat as many meals together at home as possible. A regular mealtime gives you and your family a chance to talk and relax together. It also helps you and your child to have a positive relationship with food. For more information, see the topic Healthy Eating for Children.
- Offer strategies to avoid tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Set firm, fair, and consistent limits for your child. Help him or her understand the immediate and long-lasting results of substance use, such as falling grades and poor health during adulthood. Practice how to respond when a harmful substance is offered, such as simply stating "No, thanks" and moving on to another subject. If you believe your teenager is using drugs or alcohol, it is important to talk about it. Discuss how he or she gets the alcohol, tobacco, or drugs and in what kind of setting it is used. Seek advice from a doctor if the behavior continues. For more information, see:
Promote your teen's healthy emotional and social development by doing the following:
- Address problems and concerns. Build trust gradually so your teen will feel safe talking with you about sensitive subjects. When you want to talk with your teen about problems or concerns, schedule a "date" in a private and quiet place. Knowing when and how to interfere in a teen's life is a major ongoing challenge of parenthood. Parents walk a fine line between respecting a teen's need for independence and privacy and making sure that teens do not make mistakes that have lifelong consequences.
- Understand the confusion about sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexuality is a core aspect of identity. Hormones, cultural and peer pressures, and fear of being different can cause many teens to question themselves in many areas, including sexual orientation. It is normal during the teen years to have same-sex "crushes." Consider mentioning to your teen that having such an attraction does not mean that these feelings will last. But it is helpful to acknowledge that in some cases, these feelings grow stronger over time rather than fade.
- Encourage community service. Both your teen and community members are helped when your teen volunteers. Your teen gets the chance to explore how he or she connects with others. While helping peers, adults, and other people, your teen can gain new skills and new ways of looking at things. He or she can also develop and express personal values and explore career options. Your teen can benefit most by thinking back on the service experience and figuring out what he or she learned from it.
- Help your child build a strong sense of self-worth to help him or her act responsibly, cooperate well with others, and have the confidence to try new things.
Promote your teen's mental (cognitive) development by doing the following:
- Encourage mature ways of thinking. Involve your teen in setting household rules(What is a PDF document?) and schedules. Talk about current issues together, whether it be school projects or world affairs. Listen to your teen's opinions and thoughts. Brainstorm different ways to solve problems, and discuss their possible outcomes. Stress that these years provide many opportunities to reinvent and improve themselves.
- Offer to help your teen set work and school priorities. Make sure your teen understands the need to schedule enough rest, carve out study time, eat nourishing foods, and get regular physical activity.
- Be goal-oriented instead of style-oriented. Your teen may not complete a task the way you would. This is okay. What is important is that the task gets done. Let your teen decide how to complete work, and always assume that he or she wants to do a good job.
- Continue to enjoy music, art, reading, and creative writing with your teen. For example, encourage your teen to listen to a variety of music, play a musical instrument, draw, or write a story. These types of activities can help teens learn to think and express themselves in new ways. Teens may discover a new or stronger interest, which may help their self-esteem. Remind your teen that he or she doesn't need to be an expert. Simply learning about and experimenting with art can help your teen think in more abstract ways and pull different concepts together.
Promote your teen's sensory and motor development by doing the following:
- Encourage daily exercise. Exercise can help your teen feel good, have a healthy heart, and stay at a healthy weight. Help your teen to build up an exercise routine slowly. For example, plan a short daily walk to start. Have your teen take breaks from computer, cell phone, and TV use and be active instead.
Violence and teens
- Prevent teen violence by being a good role model. It's important to model and talk to your child about healthy relationships, because dating abuse is common among teens. For example, talk calmly during a disagreement with someone else. Help your teen 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 avoiding a confrontation. You might say "I'm proud of you for staying calm." Also, to help your child limit exposure to violence, closely supervise the websites and computer games that he or she uses. For more information on teen violence, see the topics Bullying, Domestic Abuse, and/or Anger, Hostility, and Violent Behavior.
- Reduce the risk of teen suicide and recognize the warning signs. If your teen shows signs of depression, such as withdrawing from others and being sad much of the time, try to get him or her to talk about it. Call your doctor if your teen ever mentions suicide or if you are concerned for his or her safety.