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Raising teens: There's no instruction manual, but there are some guarantees

By Brandon Comstock

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, March 3 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

For whatever reason, children are the experts when it comes to asking, “Why?” It starts around age 2 with genuine inquisitions about how the world works, then peaks in the teenage years with genuine challenges of your authority.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that parents don’t pepper their children with their fair share of “why’s” as well. But for most parents, the question they really want answered isn’t a why, but a "what" — as in, "What do I do now?"

The fact is, the old saying is true: “Kids don’t come with an instruction manual.” But since that doesn’t bring much comfort, let me reassure you, they do come with some guarantees.

Children are likely going to rebel

From pushing curfew to experimenting with sex and drugs, at some point (probably in their teens), your child is likely going to push the limits on authority.

“Teens tend to rebel against authority as a natural means towards seeking independence,” said Ben Ashcraft, marriage and family therapist at A Time for Change Counseling Services. “This comes out so significantly as teens because the drive to make their own decisions is greater than ever before, yet they are still typically living under their parents' authority.”

In fact, according to Ashcraft, a little rebellion can actually be a good thing, since it helps teens learn to make decisions and live with the consequences.

“If they did not rebel, they would not be developing their sense of independence, which prepares them for adulthood,” he said.

Parents are going to make mistakes

Teens, of course, aren’t the only ones making mistakes.

Be a parent for long enough, and you’re bound to have a situation that you wish you had handled differently. Whether you came down too hard or were way too lenient, learning to be a good parent takes a lot of trial by error, and every parent makes at least a few mistakes.

If you think your teen hasn’t figured this out, you're fooling yourself. But what might surprise you is that, despite recognizing your weaknesses, most teens recognize the difficulty of being a parent and genuinely appreciate your effort.

“I know my parents are doing the best with what they’ve been given. I know my mom (and dad) feel the pressure to step up, but I think with what they’ve been given they do the best they can and they try hard,” said 17-year-old Kolbey Peterson.

“I think they’re doing all right. Do they make mistakes? Definetly, but I’m turning out OK,” added Brooklynn Gubler, age 15.

In other words, while they’re not likely to give you the same “all I expect out of you is the best you can do” talk that you give them, odds are, if you asked them, most teens would agree: Just do the best you can.

Fear can stymie progress

If you do nothing out of the fear that you’ll make things worse, things will rarely get better.

Understanding that we all make mistakes is a good thing. It can make it easier to bounce back after making a poor choice. But it also comes with a serious side effect: fear. Fear that we’ll make mistakes, and fear that making those mistakes will only make the situation worse than it already is.

Generally, it’s fear that motivates most parents to adopt the idea that “I’m not going to do anything else because I don’t want to push them away and make it worse.” As a result, a teen continues to make difficult decisions based only on the pushes they receive from peers and other non-parental influences.

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