It's natural for parents and caretakers to want the best things in life for their teenagers. But it's not always easy to know how to raise children with a foundation that will give them their best shot at being satisfied, successful and ultimately happy.
There are lots of parenting, psychology and child development books that teach different approaches to raising a teenager, but all of that information can be narrowed down to four essential tasks every parent should do to help their child have a balanced life, says Jeff Murdock, a clinical assistant and parenting seminar instructor at West Ridge Academy.
Parents who empower their child, have a strong connection to them, provide order in their lives and ensure accountability for their actions are more likely to be successful in raising their children, Murdock says.
"If you don't do these, your child will start to have problems," Murdock said.
Many of the students who attend West Ridge Academy, a non-profit charity residential treatment program for troubled youth age 9-18, arrive at the school because of a deficiency in one or more of those four areas, Murdock says.
A parent's first goal should be to have a connection to the child. Without a connection, it's difficult to establish order or accountability in a teenager's life. Once a good connection, or relationship, has been established, parents should empower their children and give them charge of their own life. Let teenagers make their own choices so they feel they are in control, Murdock says.
It is also important to provide organization and boundaries in the teen's life. This includes having boundaries for the parent as well as the child, having consistency in consequences and establishing a reliable structure in the family.
Finally, parents need to make sure their children are accountable for their actions and achieve necessary results in life. Teens need to be able to cope in the world — starting with good grades, or cooking skills or other basic chores — and it is a disservice to teens when parents fail to require their children to achieve those benchmarks, Murdock says.
Murdock describes the four pieces coming together as though they form a giant wheel. The wheel won't roll if one of the pieces, or spokes, is missing. But more importantly, the model won't work if the central piece — a centered parent — is missing.
"All good parenting starts in the center," Murdock says. "It's hard to be a parent if your issues are coming up all of the time. ... By being clear, you can influence (your children) from any side. They are stuck on the outside (of the wheel). Your job is to pull them into the middle. To do that, you need to be there yourself."