Parenting styles and teens

Teen brain development makes risk taking and impulsive behavior common territory. Parents can help by adapting their parenting style.

All parents have their own style of parenting that reflects how they were raised and it is shaped by morals and values. Parenting teens can be an especially trying time in a family. If parents can adjust their parenting style to better fit a teen’s development, it can help to make life with teens more livable.

Parenting styles fall into three basic categories; permissive, authoritarian, and structured:

  • Permissive parents tend to have few rules and few consequences. Negotiation is endless and leadership is limited and inconsistent. The emphasis in permissive parenting is on the individual, and all opinions are equal.
  • In the authoritarian style of parenting there are rigid rules and there is strict enforcement. There is no room for negotiation and leadership is autocratic. The emphasis is on conformity, and only the parent’s opinion counts.
  • The structured style of parenting is based on few rules with firm reinforcement of them. There is limited negotiation and stable leadership. There is a balance of individuality and conformity. All opinions are respected.

A teen’s brain goes through massive development which includes a rush of hormones and neurotransmitters. This combination is like having the starting power of a jet plane, but the brakes of a one speed bike. Yikes! This is why it is common for teens to take risks and at the same time, to show little to no impulse control. Parents can support teens by being the ‘brakes’ until their teen brain develops their own jet powered set.

In his book “Why do they act that way?” author David Walsh suggests that structured parenting is the most effective style to help teens put on the breaks. By using a permissive style parents are not giving teens enough structure, and by using an authoritative style parents create an atmosphere of power struggles. In an authoritative household teens are not allowed to practice any negotiation skills or build self-discipline. The key, according to Walsh, is to use a structured parenting style, which gives teens some slack and doesn’t turn every wrongdoing into a major family battle. However, structured parenting does have some firm limits when it comes to unacceptable behavior.

With younger children we might implement a behavior plan. With teens, think about implementing a Respect Plan. List the behaviors that are not tolerated such as hitting, name calling, swearing, throwing things and yelling. Rewards for following a plan could include a movie, pizza, bowling or other fun activity. List some consequences for not following the plan such as no TV or video games for two days. In order to get buy in from your teens, it is important to get their input into the Respect Plan. Hold a family meeting and develop the plan together.

On one hand it helps to understand why teens act the way they do, on the other hand a parent needs to provide enough structure so that the teen’s behavior does not become destructive to the family, themselves and others. With some basic understanding of teen brain development a parent can adjust their parenting style to provide structure and a more respectful family atmosphere.

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