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Adolescent Parenting Introduction

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

From parents' perspectives, adolescence could quite possibly be the most nerve-wracking developmental period in their children's lives. It is natural for parents to feel anxious when their teens learn to drive a car; begin to form romantic and sexual relationships; decide to get tattoos and body piercings; and flirt with danger by experimenting with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Despite these perils, adolescence is also a period of great pride and satisfaction for parents as they begin to recognize that their years of hard work, commitment, and personal sacrifice have paid off. Their once dependent children gradually become independent and responsible adults. Along the way there are significant landmarks such as their teen getting a first job; choosing a career or trade; moving out to live on their own; and developing a rewarding social network.

group of happy teensThe adolescent developmental period is a lengthy period of transition spanning the ages of 12-24 years. During adolescence a metamorphous occurs as dependent children become independent adults. Although developmental theorists refer to adolescence as a single developmental period, it is often sub-divided into early, middle, and late adolescence.

The goal of this center is to provide parents, and other caregivers of adolescent youth, practical suggestions about how to best guide and direct their children during this time of significant change. Because successful parenting strategies are dependent upon whether a child has reached early, middle, or late adolescence, each section of this article will discuss parenting challenges and solutions according to these three different periods of adolescence. We discuss how parents can nurture their children's emotional and social growth by providing teens unconditional love and affection while still maintaining high expectations and appropriate boundaries. These steps ensure children become resilient, successful adults while they gradually develop confidence in their own skills and abilities.

We begin by exploring how parents can ensure their youth are making healthy food choices to receive the proper nutrition for their growing bodies, and provide suggestions for encouraging youth to make healthy food choices. We discuss how much food youth need and what types of foods will best meet their bodies' needs. We also address dietary challenges, such as obesity, unhealthy dieting practices, and complications with diabetes. In addition to proper nutrition, regular exercise is important part of a healthy lifestyle. We make some suggestions to help parents encourage youth to remain physically active, which is becoming increasingly difficult in today's sedentary American culture.

In addition to proper nutrition and regular exercise, youth need adequate rest to maintain their health. We discuss the importance of healthy sleep patterns  and educate parents about the differences between teens' sleep patterns and those of both adults and younger children. The article will go on to explore how parents can help their youth to maintain good hygiene, and what parents should say and do when their teens want to wear make-up, or ask to get tattoos and body piercings.

Parents are responsible for providing their children's medical care, housing, and clothing but there are some unique challenges that parents face during the adolescent years. During the early teen years parents must learn how to negotiate clothing choices with their teens who may have significantly different style preferences. In the later teen years, parents will need to help their children find their own housing or negotiate financial arrangements if they continue to live at home after high school. The importance of proper medical care is emphasized such as updated immunizations and timely physical, emotional, sexual, dental, and vision health assessments. We provide parents guidance for helping teens learn to gradually take over full responsibility for their own healthcare.

The article concludes with an extensive section on teen safety which discusses driving safety; dating violence; peer violence; bullying; experimentation with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; and independent living precautions.

In summary, parents often struggle to strike the right balance between their children's increasing need for independence, with the need to provide rules, boundaries, and limitations to protect their children's safety and well-being. And to complicate things further, this balance constantly changes as youth move from early, to middle, to late adolescence. The purpose of this article is to assist parents to achieve this balance.