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Navigating the Teen Years: A Guide for Parents from a St. Louis Family Therapist

Three teenage girls sit on a couch looking at a cell phone. Teen therapy is available at Marble Wellness, a therapy practice in St. Louis, MO. Family therapy in West County, MO and therapy for parents are also specialties of Marble Wellness.

“Buzz, woof, the teen years.” (Hopefully most of you get that reference.)

Parenting teens is a battlefield. Or, it can feel like that a lot of the time anyway. There are days you feel like you never know which version of your kiddo you are going to get. You find these years unpredictable, confusing, and just rough. As a parent, you may feel defeated; may try to navigate your own hurt feelings; and may often feel like you’re at your wits end to find what works so you can keep some semblance of a relationship with your teenager.

And hey, we get it. As therapists who have been in the field for quite some time, we’ve sat across from teenagers. We’ve sat across from parents. We’ve sat across from the family unit as a whole.

And, we’ve been there, too.

But today, I want to try to give you some tips and strategies, as a parent, to better understand and cope with the teen years.So let’s get to it!

Tips from a St. Louis Family Therapist on Navigating the Teen Years

Tip 1: Open Lines of Communication

Whether I am working with you as a parent, your teenager solo, or engaging in family sessions as a St. Louis therapist, therapy often begins with a simple yet powerful principle: communication is key. Your teenager might not always seem willing to chat, but keeping those lines of communication open is crucial.

Create a safe space where your teen feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Listen actively, without judgment, and validate their emotions. This will foster trust and encourage your teen to turn to you when they need guidance.

Example: Imagine your teenager, let's call her Sarah, comes home looking upset. Instead of immediately asking what's wrong, you might say, "Hey Sarah, I noticed something seems to be bothering you. I'm here if you want to talk about it." By approaching her this way, you create a space where she feels safe sharing her feelings, whether it's about school, friends, or anything else.

2. Set Clear Boundaries

Teenagers are testing their boundaries, which is a normal part of growing up. However, it's essential for parents to set clear, consistent rules and expectations. This helps teens understand limits and provides a sense of security. Discuss and negotiate rules together, allowing your teen to have a say in decisions that affect them. When rules are fair and agreed upon, they're more likely to be followed.

Example: Let's say you've established a rule that homework must be completed before any screen time. Your teenager, Alex, protests and says his friends don't have such rules. You can calmly explain, "Alex, we set this rule because we want to make sure you have enough time for schoolwork. It's non-negotiable, but we can talk about adjusting the schedule if you have suggestions."

3. Encourage Independence

Adolescence is a time of self-discovery and independence. Encourage your teenager to make choices and take responsibility for their actions. Support their interests and hobbies, and let them learn from their mistakes. This empowers them to develop crucial life skills and build self-esteem.

Example: Your teenage son, Jake, wants to take up a part-time job after school. Instead of dismissing the idea due to concerns about his grades, you can discuss it together. Say, "Jake, it's great that you want to work, but we also need to ensure your schoolwork doesn't suffer. Let's figure out a schedule that works for both."

4. Stay Informed

Stay informed about your teen's activities, friends, and interests. This doesn't mean invading their privacy, but rather being aware of their social circle and the challenges they may face. It's important to know who their friends are and where they spend their time.

Example: One evening, you ask your teenager, Emily, about her day. She mentions a new friend named Mark. Instead of prying, you express interest by saying, "I'm glad to hear about your new friend, Emily. Tell me more about him and how you two met." This way, you stay informed about her social circle without invading her privacy.

A teenage girl sits on a ledge by plants. Teenagers can find support through anxiety therapy, counseling for depression, and family therapy in Ballwin, MO.

5. Be a Role Model

Your teen is watching and learning from you, even if it doesn't always seem that way. Be a positive role model by demonstrating healthy coping mechanisms, communication skills, and problem-solving techniques. Show them how to handle stress, conflicts, and emotions in a constructive way.

Example: Your teenager, Daniel, observes you during a stressful situation, such as a car breakdown. Instead of getting frustrated, you handle it calmly, saying, "Well, these things happen. Let's call for assistance." By demonstrating composure, you teach Daniel how to handle unexpected challenges gracefully.

6. Prioritize Self-Care

Parenting can be demanding, especially during the teen years. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Make time for your own interests, hobbies, and relaxation. When you're physically and emotionally well, you'll be better equipped to support your teenager.

Example: Imagine a weekend when your teenager, Mia, has a packed schedule of extracurricular activities. Instead of rushing her from one activity to another, you schedule some downtime for yourself. You might say, "While you're at your dance class, I'll relax with a book at the park. It's essential for both of us to have some 'me time'."

7. Seek Professional Help from a St. Louis Family Therapist When Needed

Sometimes, the challenges of adolescence can become overwhelming for both parents and teens. If you notice persistent signs of emotional distress, behavioral issues, or a breakdown in communication, consider seeking the assistance of a mental health therapist.

Family therapy in St. Louis can provide valuable support and guidance during these times. Or, maybe your teenager just needs their own, individual therapist. They may benefit from having a space that is just theirs and allows them to explore their ideas, emotions, and options for a variety of tools to manage their own stressors.

Parents can be involved - or better said, can be in the know to a degree - in their teen’s therapy, which also allows parents to support new behaviors and adjustments at home.

Additionally, therapy for yourself as a parent during the teenage years can be incredibly helpful.

You, too, may benefit from your own space to explore parenting options; learn emotional regulation skills; and better understand the developmental stages your teenager is cycling through.

Example: Over the past few months, your teenager, Ethan, has become increasingly withdrawn and moody. Conversations have become strained, and you suspect he's struggling with more than typical teenage angst. You decide to seek the assistance of a family therapist in St. Louis. This step allows your family to address underlying issues and improve communication.

Remember, parenting during the teen years is a journey filled with ups and downs. There's no one-size-fits-all approach, but these tips can serve as a compass to help you navigate the path. Be patient with yourself and your teenager, and always keep the lines of communication open. Family therapy in St. Louis is here to help if you need additional support.

Parenting during the teen years can be challenging, but it's also an opportunity for growth and connection. By fostering open communication, setting boundaries, encouraging independence, staying informed, being a role model, prioritizing self-care, and seeking professional help when needed, you can navigate this journey with confidence and grace. Your St. Louis family therapist is here to guide you every step of the way.

A teenage boy sits on a couch playing a video game. Teen therapy in St. Louis, MO can help families navigate the teenage years. Marble Wellness in West County, MO offers in-person therapy in our Ballwin office, online therapy in Missouri, online therapy in Illinois, and park therapy in Queeny Park in St. Louis County.

About the Author: St. Louis Family Therapist Skyler Martin, LMSW

Skyler Martin, LMSW is a dedicated family therapist and team member at Marble Wellness in St. Louis, bringing a wealth of knowledge and expertise to his practice. He specializes in working with teens, adult men (especially fathers), and facilitating transformative family counseling sessions.

In family therapy sessions with Skyler, clients can expect a warm and empathetic environment, providing a safe space to explore their challenges and emotions. Whether you're a parent seeking support in coping and guiding your child or teenager or looking to embark on your own transformative journey, Skyler is ready to be your steadfast ally. Healing and transformation within the family dynamic are journeys of hope and empowerment, and with Skyler's guidance, you can embrace a life filled with possibilities, joy, and fulfillment.

Reach out today to schedule a family therapy session and let Skyler be your supportive guide towards family healing and transformation.

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