When kids are little, they often want to be just like mom or dad, putting on pretend makeup, taking care of baby dolls or imagining going to work. Once children become teenagers, they often want to be as far away from mom and dad as possible. But even as teens keep their distance, they are watching parents and noticing behaviors. Teenagers are risk-takers, and their brains haven't developed enough to always make good choices. Your example in these five categories just might save your teen's life.
My oldest daughter now sits in the front seat of the car, right beside me while I drive. Having her in such close proximity has made me realize I need to set a good example for her now, before she's old enough to be in the driver's seat. Curbing road rage, making full stops, obeying traffic lights, staying within the speed limit and using my turn signals all the time are things I'm focusing on. My teen asks me questions about driving and observes me when we're in the car together, so I'm being careful. As a bonus, my gas mileage has improved.
Cell phone use
Using a cell phone responsibly as an adult is an important way to set an example for your teen. Never text while driving, and follow the laws regarding cell phone use, which differ from location to location. I've started putting my phone out of arm's reach so I'm not tempted to respond to every notification.
If you bring your phone to family dinners, what's to stop your teen from doing the same? Put phones and devices away during family times together. I also try to set a good example by not playing mindless games and wasting time surfing the Internet. My phone gets turned off at night like my daughter's, allowing both of us to sleep well. Consider a cell phone contract for your teen, outlining the behaviors and rules you'd like him to follow.
Relationships with others are important throughout life. Teens are developing more relationships than they did as children, with people like co-workers, girlfriends and boyfriends, teachers and friends. Their relationships are often autonomous from parents, so setting an example on how to interact with others is important. I know my daughter notices when I have an argument with her father. I hope she also notices how we resolve our arguments, compromise with each other and show appropriate kinds of affection.
My daughter has a sweet tooth. She also has the never-ending hunger of a teenager. I've encouraged her to choose healthy foods her whole life. I had a small victory recently when she chose popcorn and four pieces of fruit for a snack after track practice. We also talk about portion control for treat foods like ice cream and the importance of eating meals with protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats.
It's hard to tell teens what to do about health and wellness if we are unhealthy ourselves. Getting off the couch might be something to do with your teen. Teens are notorious night owls, but if they see parents with good sleep habits, they are more likely to follow. Some teens might begin to experiment with alcohol and smoking. Parents should consider their role in helping teens avoid dangerous addictions and unhealthy behaviors, including overuse of caffeine.
Education and work
I'm sure every generation grumbles about the poor work ethic of younger generations. The current generation of Millennials is getting an especially bad rap for being unable to focus and commit on work. Make sure your teen is not part of this labeling by setting a good example. My daughter knows I work hard to keep our household running smoothly. She participates in cleaning and cooking regularly. Education is also a priority in our family. Being able to learn and work will make your teen's life much happier.
Teens may not share many details of their lives with you, but they are watching you and notice your example. Help them live safe and happy lives by showing them the way.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.