This is a contributed post by Michael Vaelljo, co-founder of Mental Health Center Kids.
Adolescence is a difficult time for teenagers as they grow physically, socially, and emotionally during this period.
Fathers may worry about their teen’s safety and well-being due to a sudden push for independence, exposure to peer pressure, and increased risk-taking behaviors.
It’s a time when adolescents need good and reliable role models, but for many dads, it’s a time they step back instead of forward. Sometimes it can be because a father is uncomfortable, for example with a daughter’s changing body, or because a son is interested in different things. Other times it’s because a dad’s feelings are hurt because of rejection or behavior problems with the teen that they can’t understand.
According to Penn State’s research, a teen’s closeness with their parents — especially relationships with fathers — can help keep some problems at bay. And this applied to both sons and daughters. According to Anna Hochgraf, doctoral candidate in human development and family studies, “the findings suggest that while close relationships with moms are certainly important, fathers may play an important, distinct role in fostering healthy adjustment in adolescents.”
Furthermore, parental intimacy was associated with better mental health, weight management, and self-esteem.
How Dads Can Actively Parent Their Teen
The good news is that a father’s closeness with their teen can be improved through active parenting. While it may feel impossible to get through to a sullen or moody teen, you can take steps to improve your relationship.
Understand The Teen Brain
The first and most important step is to understand your teen’s brain.
As a dad who went through adolescence ages ago, you might have forgotten how teens think, feel, and do. And this might lead to confusion about their behavior.
Fortunately, the CBT triangle, which is a tool used in cognitive behavioral therapy, can help.
The CBT triangle is represented with the thoughts at the top, while feelings and behavior are found on the bottom left and right points. The triangle shows that thoughts affect feelings, which lead to certain behaviors.
This means that a negative thought can lead to negative feelings and actions, and vice versa. As you try to get closer to your teen, you can utilize the triangle to help them become aware of their negative thoughts. This way, you can support them in coping healthily. Using the CBT triangle allows you to understand your teen’s actions so you can better support and communicate with them.
Set Clear Expectations
Having clear expectations is crucial to active parenting. These standards can help you guide your teen on the right path.
By setting proper expectations, your teen can understand that they need to be responsible for what they do and that actions can lead to consequences — especially risky ones.
Their actions could have natural consequences, but other bad behavior might need to be corrected through fair and reasonable discipline strategies.
Another thing to note is that consequences should be firm and consistent. As a parent, you need to follow through every time for it to be effective. This will help them understand and respect boundaries.
It’s normal for you to feel distant from your teen because they push for independence or wish to spend more time with friends. But staying connected and practicing active listening is crucial, especially during adolescence.
According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, good listening was linked to an improved sense of well-being and self-esteem in teens. It has shown that active listening helps teens open up.
There are various ways you can communicate effectively with your teen. You can express your love by showing your interest in your teen’s thoughts, feelings, and activities. This shows that you care for them and respect them.
You can listen properly through your body language as well — it can be through eye contact, attentive nodding, and many others, including closing your laptop or putting down your phone when they enter the room.
Remember that communication is always two-way. When discussing difficult topics and resolving conflict, it helps to ask their views and perspectives.
Asking open-ended questions allows you to understand their thoughts. At the same time, you can offer helpful feedback. Whether you’re discussing a serious topic or simply asking them about their day, it is important to show interest.
Help Your Teen Make Good Choices
As your teen goes through a difficult part of their life, you can help them develop good decision-making skills. This can go a long way in helping them be successful in their adult life as well. Your role as a parent is to provide guidance and know when to step back so they can learn valuable life lessons when they fail.
This is where communication comes in. When they make mistakes, it is beneficial for you to be there to discuss the main problem and help them think about solutions. This can help them plan and move forward with good decisions.
When it comes to decision-making, values — such as respect, responsibility, self-discipline, integrity, and honesty — dads can guide your teens to know what is right or wrong. The values they learn can help them make good choices during adolescence and later in life.
Find opportunities to talk with your teen about values and help them develop ones that can lead to good choices, especially when you’re not around.
Support Your Teen’s Interests
One of your responsibilities is to provide your teen with the right foundation so they can keep doing their best. During this time in their life, they need your support not just in making good choices but also in pursuing their interests. Once they find their passion in life, they can gain confidence and also have a sense of purpose.
However, not all passions are clearly defined. Your teen may likely need your help figuring out what they want. You can guide them by encouraging them to try different activities or learn about different topics. Whether it’s choosing a sport, exploring a hobby, taking a class, or trying a different cuisine, it helps to show that you’re interested.
Scheduling one-on-one time together is also a great way to support your teen and stay connected. It’s amazing how they will open up when it’s just you as their audience.
The Importance Of Active Fatherhood
With physical, emotional, and social changes during adolescence, it’s normal to feel that fatherhood is becoming more challenging as well.
As your teens go through this adjustment period, your guidance and support can go a long way in setting them up for success in life.
Take a step toward active fatherhood by understanding how their brains work so you can set clear expectations, stay connected, and help them make good choices as well as support their interests.