The teenage years are tricky. Your teenagers will tell you they don't need you, but show them they do anyway. There are a few things you need to do for your teenager throughout these adolescent years. However, they're oddly contradictory, but we'll explain:
1. Trust him
Teenagers aren't toddlers. You can't watch them all day, every day, and they certainly wouldn't want you to. So you need to trust that they'll do the right thing, even when you're not there. You need to give them space, autonomy and enough freedom to make the occasional mistake.
When you are building a trusting relationship with your teen, it starts young. It involves teaching him right from wrong, making sure he understands the consequences of his actions, and then letting go (just a little), so he can demonstrate that he's trustworthy. When he does make a mistake that is not always a reason to stop trusting him. That is sometimes an opportunity to look at what went wrong and why, and how it can be avoided in the future. It's often an ideal time to discuss actions and consequences again, in context.
2. Monitor him
Just because you trust your teen, doesn't mean you shouldn't monitor his life at all. With teens sometimes the best way to monitor is to help. So don't nag him over whether he's prepared for his history test, instead offer to quiz him. Don't pressure him to submit college applications, instead ask if you can offer any help or advice. If you want to know where he's going, you can always offer him a ride.
Make time to chat. Lots of it. With teens, the easiest way to find out if there's anything to be concerned about is to get them to tell you. Remember that asking outright rarely works. If you and your teen are still communicating regularly, most of their concerns will come up as a natural part of the conversation.
3. Support him
Teens know what they want, and some of it might surprise you. You may be assuming you know what he wants to focus on in high school, where he wants to go to college and what career he's interested in, but you could be wrong. The teenage years are a time of rapid personal growth and lots of changes. When he throws you a curve ball, take a deep breath and listen. He may really need your support on this one.
Not every decision a teenager makes is a good one. So that support I just mentioned? Sometimes you may have to put it on hold and guide them back to healthier or more appropriate choices.
If your daughter wants to drop an activity to hang out with her boyfriend more, you may want to step in and offer a more attractive activity that continues to build her resume. Feel like your son's choice of college is based on all the wrong criteria? It may be time to start visiting colleges and chatting to enrolled students.
5. Challenge him
Young adults need a challenge, and the teen years are a great time to build self-efficacy and confidence. In his book, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy, author Edward M. Hallowell talks about how mastering new skills leads to confidence and long-term happiness. You can't master something without first taking on the challenge of trying something new. So it's important to provide plenty of opportunities for your teen to learn, grow and test himself.
It can be a positive thing to push, guide and challenge your teenager, but it's important you do it with lots of input from him. Accept that his interests and ambitions may be different from yours. Help him with his challenges because this will help him succeed in the areas that are important to him.
When these things seem contradictory, it's because they are. Parenting teens is a fine balance, and most of us get the balance wrong from time to time. If you feel that's you right now, take a moment to reassess. It might be that this week, your teen needs a little less blind support, and a little more guidance. Or maybe there have been enough challenges in his life recently and it's time for some acceptance. Watch your teenagers closely. Often their actions are telling you exactly what they need.