When you brought your new baby home from the hospital over a decade ago (and maybe closer to two!), you did what you had to make the environment safe. You probably installed outlet covers, put up baby gates, put the cleaning products up high, and took other steps to prevent your little one from hurting him- or herself. Now that your baby is almost all grown up, you no longer have to worry that they’ll drown in the toilet or taste the window cleaner. Instead of taking steps to make your home physically safe for your teenager, you need to concentrate on providing a safe environment for him or her to feel emotionally secure and to be able to approach you with concerns, questions, and problems. Here are some tips on creating a safe environment for your teen that he or she can thrive in.
Approach Your Teen with a Positive Attitude
It’s very easy to notice something that your teen is doing and to react with anger and frustration. This can cause your teen to shut down immediately and refuse to cooperate to solve even minor issues. To create a safe environment, it helps immensely if you try to give your teen the benefit of the doubt. An adolescent coming in an hour late without a phone call might have had a dead telephone battery. Your son or daughter might not have done his or her math homework because they were helping a friend going through a crisis. When your teen does something frustrating, approach the situation with the mindset that there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation.
Once your teen has explained his or her side of the story, try to respond in a way that focuses on the solution, rather than the transgression itself. Use “I” statements. For example, if your child missed curfew, you could say, “I understand that your phone battery died and that your friend had a flat tire. But I was worried and ended up staying up way too late, which made my morning difficult. Is there some other way this could have been handled?” From there, see if your teen poses a possible solution; otherwise, you can suggest something (for example, borrowing a friend’s phone to send you a text — assuming he or she knows your number, which is something they need to know by heart or have written down).
Ask the Right Questions
Remember that your teenager is close to being an adult. This means that the questions you ask should be considered with that in mind. You might ask a ten-year-old, “why aren’t you doing your homework yet?” or “did you put your dirty clothes in the hamper?”. However, these are not things you should bother asking your teen. Instead, to create a safe environment, focus on asking the questions that will help them decide on their own solutions to their problems and that will not sound like nagging.
For example, if your teen hasn’t done his or her homework, you could ask, “is there a change we can make in the evening routine that will help you to get everything done?” This puts the impetus on your teen in terms of managing his or her time better. An adolescent who isn’t getting his or her laundry or other tasks done might need fewer reminders and more natural consequences!
Don’t be Afraid to Walk Away
Teens are notorious for pushing boundaries, and your teen is no exception. He or she most likely knows exactly how to push your buttons and might not hesitate to do so. If you feel your blood pressure rising, there’s no shame in simply walking away and refusing to engage until tensions have dissipated. If you feel tempted to raise your voice, take away privileges in haste or, worse, use physical violence toward your teen, it’s much better to retreat to another room. Remember, even though your teen is the size of an adult, he or she is still maturing and will act like a child at times. Keep him or her emotionally safe by being the adult in the situation.
Set Healthy and Appropriate Boundaries and Consequences
That being said, do not be a doormat for your teen. He or she will push boundaries, and at some point, there needs to be some resistance in order to create a safe environment. You know what your non-negotiables are, and so does your teenager. It is a good idea to periodically review them to be sure that they’re still age-appropriate. As long as they are, don’t be afraid to stick to your guns.
Some common boundaries include things like curfews, not allowing teens to participate in certain activities (like unsupervised parties or driving with certain friends who might have poor track records when it comes to being safe behind the wheel), insisting on some modicum of respect, no drug or alcohol use, and a no-bullying policy when it comes to peers or siblings. Consequences for breaking these types of rules generally consist of revoked privileges. In severe cases, such as with drug abuse or violence, you may need to get professionals involved.
Be the Support that Your Teen Needs
As your child’s parent, you’re still his or her number one support system. Teens naturally begin relying more on peers than on parents as they approach adulthood, but when they’re in trouble, mom or dad is usually the go-to person. Sometimes you have to be the “heavy,” and other times, you can simply be a sounding board. The important thing is that you try to give your teen what he or she needs when it comes to listening, supporting, and encouraging. Remember that your teenager likely hears a lot of negativity as he or she goes through the day; don’t add to it. Let your child know that you believe in them, and then make sure your actions are backing up that claim.
Being a teenager is not easy, and neither is being the parent of a teen. To create a safe environment for your teen, keep the lines of communication open by listening to the small things that are important to your teen, and this will encourage them to open up about the bigger things. Also, don’t be afraid to apologize if you make a mistake or to let your teen know that you’re not sure what type of support he or she needs. Being honest will help create the safe environment your teen needs to get through this potentially tricky stage of life.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.