5 Ways Parents Can Help Teenagers Adjust to Change

March 13, 2023

Teens face many age-group-specific challenges as they navigate adolescence. From changes in biology to school to peer interactions, it can be overwhelming for some young people. However, parents help their kids develop strategies to cope during challenging times.

Keep Reading To Learn

  • Why structure is important for teens
  • How to foster autonomy and empowerment in teens
  • Tips for coping with change, loss, and frustration

1. The Importance of Structure

Teens have heavily scheduled days of classes, sports practice, social outings, or part-time work. They may find it difficult to manage unstructured time.

It’s important for parents to gently encourage their teens to have structure to accomplish homework as well as household tasks.

For some, a lack of structure may enhance or amplify feelings of uncertainty teens often already experience, according to clinical psychologist Lisa W. Coyne, PhD.

Coyne suggests parents teach teens a simple principle to organize their time. “First, do the hard thing, which is most likely schoolwork,” she shares. “And then do the fun thing—a video call with a friend, a walk, or whatever it may be.”

Regular sleep and exercise schedules are also beneficial, as these factors help regulate mood and provide structure.

“It’s important to remember teens go through a sleep-phase shift. They tend to go to sleep later and wake later than when they were younger,” Coyne says.

There are simple things parents can do to set some boundaries with this. Setting limits on screen time in the late evening, for example, as screens can disrupt sleep onset.

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2. Balancing Family and Alone Time

Teens often seek autonomy, a sense of self, and privacy as they experience healthy development during adolescence. Because of this, it’s important for parents to give their teens space.

“A teen’s room may be their haven, and I’d encourage parents not to immediately worry if their teens are spending a good bit of time in their room,” Coyne shares.

Parents should be respectful by knocking before entering and asking permission. Also, rather than making demands that teens have family time, parents can invite them to join the family at meals, outings, etc.

Giving teens a role in the family—for example, to help with a particular daily task like setting the table, doing the dishes—can also be helpful to give teens a sense of belonging and responsibility.

3. Compromise Through Collaboration

Teens often want to try new things, especially in social settings.

If teens push boundaries, parents can have collaborative conversations around risks.

Parents should be careful not to demand compliance since that will mostly cause teens to push back. Instead, approach the situation by empathizing and treating the teen as if they are just about to do the ‘next right thing.’

If teens feel empowered and trusted, they will sometimes make better decisions about risk.

Because it can be hard for parents to feel more out of control than their adolescents, a shift in parenting style may be required to help support healthy, flexible decision-making.

“The best way to get there,” Coyne says, “is to work on authentic, empathic, and collaborative conversations with teens.”

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4. Coping With Change and Loss

Facing big changes or losses and missed opportunities is challenging at any age. The first action parents can take is to recognize that their teens may be struggling.

Parents can empathize and give space to their teens by listening, and then receiving what their teens wish to say.

“I encourage parents to resist problem-solving in this conversation, as the most important ingredient would be for teens to feel heard.”

If parents want to help, they can then ask thoughtful questions that can help the teen work through the challenge. If the teens come up with an idea, parents can support it, as may be appropriate.

5. Coping With Frustration

It wouldn’t be adolescence if there weren’t some frustration between parents and teens.

Sometimes parents’ first instinct can be to come down hard on back-talking or angry teens, but it’s important for parents to remember a couple of simple rules:

Timing Is Everything

A well-timed chat when a teen is calm goes much further than in the middle of a heated argument when nobody can hear anything the other person is saying.

Pick Your Battles

Is your teen safe? Are they mostly responsive and connected in your home life? Then see if you can let the minor irritations go.

We all lose our temper sometimes, and it isn’t necessarily a mark of disrespect to one another.

Be gentle and empathic, Coyne reminds parents. “In quiet moments, set kind but firm boundaries when required about what behavior is, and is not, ok with you.”

Most of all, Coyne says, parents should listen, and let what their teen has to say in.

“It may be helpful for parents to take some time to think back to what they were like, and what they understood, and how they viewed the world when they were teenagers, and to let that ‘teen self’ out to chat with their own teen.”

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