If the middle school years are the first incline you slowly chukka-chukka up to at the beginning of a roller coaster, the high school years are a series of wild loop-de-loops, hair-raising ascents, and blood curdling falls. “The teen years are a continuation of what starts in the preteen years, but with a lot more charge,” says Lori Landau, noted Marriage and Family Therapist and Parenting Coach. In early adolescence, kids begin to question parental and school authority figures, placing emphasis on their own beliefs and actions. While in high school kids “are more likely to portend that they have it all figured out and forge ahead as if they do,” says Landau.
These years can be tricky for parents striving to allow their children to thrive in blossoming adulthood, but do not want to lose healthy boundaries and structure. Landau believes the secret is finding a balance: Resisting both the instinct to turn your household into a police state and the temptation of throwing up your hands and just letting your child do what she wants because she just won’t listen. Landau says it's important for parents to keep in mind that this “not listening” is actually a vital component of teen development, irritating as it may be. “Although they may not always or often make the choices we’d like, it is part of their task in developing discretion to go through this period of questioning all the decisions that used to be made for them,” explains Landau. These are the years when they will be confronted with tumultuous grown-up problems for the first time, such as sex, alcohol, cigarettes, and possibly illicit drugs. Allowing your child to develop the skills necessary for adult, independent decision-making is crucial.
The high school years are a blend of burgeoning independence, increasingly important peer relationships, learning to deal with true heartache, questioning authority, excitement for the future, and ambivalence at what it truly means to be a productive member of society. Your child needs you, and she doesn’t. She seeks your advice, then rolls her eyes at your words.
This is the time when the foundation of trust and open communication you established when your child was in elementary school will pay off in spades. Landau sums it up this way: “Teens are developing their own social competence and solidifying a sense of self that will carry them years into adulthood. As parents, what we are doing is insuring they are prepared for the launch.” So sit back, relax, share, and listen, soon you'll be marveling at the spectacle of your child taking flight.