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How to guide your teen

In this info sheet

During adolescence, teens gradually distance themselves from their parents to develop their own identities. However, a teen’s brain has not matured and they are not always able to make the best decisions.

Even though teens don’t always let it show, they still need their parents’ guidance to help them make good choices and gradually move towards independence as they reach adulthood.

Independence: a learning process that happens over time and through various experiences!

What parent hasn’t already said to their teen, “Think before you do something!” or, “Think about the consequences of your actions!”. What’s important to know is that from age 12 to 25, the brain goes through changes that allow teens to develop planning skills. These skills include the ability to plan, to judge information or a situation, and to act accordingly.

The limbic system, the area of the brain responsible for seeking strong emotions, and the frontal cortex, responsible for reason, develop at different paces. This discrepancy can sometimes lead to an explosive cocktail of risk-seeking and feeling invincible. This magical thinking that “it only happens to other people” is therefore present during adolescence. This means that teens may have more risky behaviours. That’s when guidance from their parents becomes necessary: setting rules to keep teens safe while allowing them to have various experiences, develop and become independent.

How to guide your teen while encouraging them to be independent?

First and foremost: Breathe!

It’s not unusual for what teens say and do to cause reactions. Remember: your teen is not acting against you. They are experimenting, developing and learning to be independent. Whether you feel angry, disappointed or discouraged, take a moment to step back before you react. It’s often said that it’s good to sleep on it. By letting a few hours go by, your reaction will be less emotional. You’ll avoid saying things you may regret. Above all, what’s important is to maintain a relationship of trust with your teen so that if the need arises, they’ll come to you for help. For this to work, your teen needs to feel that you’ll be there, without blaming.

Make sure there’s a safety net while considering that risk-taking is part of the learning process of becoming independent.  

You have concerns about your teen’s safety? Talk about your concerns openly with your teen, asking them to suggest what would put you both at ease. For example, your teen wants to go to a party where there will be young people you don’t know?

  • Your teen could give you the telephone numbers of their peers who are going with them and whom you know.
  • You could agree to have them call you or send you a text message during the evening.
  • You could also drive your teen to their party to find out where it’s happening and agree on a time to go pick them up.

As a parent, always keep in mind that you may have to say no to your teen if you feel the risk is too high. If that’s the case, explain why you’ve said no and stay open to listening to what they have to say, while remaining firm as concerns their health and safety.

Negotiate a “win-win” solution, i.e. one that works out well for everyone.

By negotiating with your teen, they learn to analyze the pros and cons of a situation and take responsibility. Your role? Share your concerns with them and point out all aspects of a situation.

For example, your teen wants to go to a cottage for the weekend, while they have a week of exams coming up and haven’t started studying yet?

  • Explain to them that you are concerned about them failing at school.
  • Ask your teen about how they plan to study for their exams.
  • Ask your teen to make suggestions until their plan is realistic.

Your teen doesn’t respect the commitment they made? It happens! Stay calm! Together, come up with a logical consequence ahead of time, i.e. related to the situation negotiated, if your teen doesn’t respect the agreement. If your teen doesn’t come home at the expected time, a logical consequence could be that they have to come home earlier the next time. Most importantly, apply the consequence you’ve agreed on. Your teen will surely try to renegotiate and make you go back on your decision. Don’t give in: be consistent!

In brief

Remember that this way, your teen will learn to assume the consequences of their choices and become more responsible.

Resources and practical tools

For support

General resources

If you are dealing with a situation you are concerned about, don’t hesitate to talk to or consult a social services health care worker or professional:

Community organizations – maison de la famille ado, maison des jeunes

Some community organizations offer a program to support parents of teens. Ask your local organization about what’s available.

School staff members

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