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Published May 20, 2011, 12:00 AM

Val Farmer: Parents can prepare for kids’ teenage years

Besides the mountain of work and sacrifice it takes to raise young children, the second biggest hurdle to parenting often comes in the teenage years when teens begin their journey for independence in earnest.

By: By Val Farmer, INFORUM

Besides the mountain of work and sacrifice it takes to raise young children, the second biggest hurdle to parenting often comes in the teenage years when teens begin their journey for independence in earnest. Parenting is so broad, so inclusive, so demanding and so individualized that it is hard to come up with general principles that fit everyone.

Here are seven principles to make your path smoother.

1. Really love your children. This means going out of your way for them – meeting their needs and being dependable in your concern and attention. Take time to teach them what they need to know and stay connected emotionally with their lives. This foundation of unconditional love starts in infancy, continues through childhood and cushions relationships during the teenage years.

Too many parents are too wrapped up in their own lives. They aren’t as involved as they need to be with their children. This is a challenge in our complicated, fast-paced, work-oriented culture and lifestyle.

Children need a backdrop of loving attention and sacrifice to develop an attachment bond. This gives firm discipline a chance to work without harming the quality of the overall relationship.

2. Give respect and freedom. Another way of loving your teen is to respect his or her individuality and opportunity to make choices for him or herself. Parents can be too intrusive, bossy and controlling of teens in order for their own lives to go smoother.

Allow room for thinking, privacy, negotiations and discussion. Be willing to be influenced by reason and allow your teen to make his or her own decisions within basic outside limits. Those limits need to be clear and understood. Other than standing firm on basic values, be easy-going, accepting and flexible about their choices.

Explain and reason with teens instead of ordering or demanding. This takes patience as their reasoning is often self-centered and based on a short-tem perspective. Help them explore their own interests and talents without taking over and pushing them for your sake.

Be a good listener, recognize their valid points, be willing to explain yourself and negotiate with them. This is difficult because they are generally poor at negotiating. If you are a good listener, your teen will not be as reactive when you don’t agree.

3. Be a team player with your spouse. Form a united front when it comes to discipline. Support each other’s discipline in front of the children even if you disagree with your spouse’s approach. Work through your differences in parenting style, rules and consequences in private. Don’t side in with your child against your spouse.

Use your spouse as a resource and a sounding board for parenting issues. You’ll need all your eyes, ears and wits about you if you are going to keep up with problems that come up in the family. If you’re a single parent, find a trusted confidant with whom you can discuss parenting issues.

4. Have a system of discipline, not your temper. You are human and are bound to lose your temper occasionally while raising children. However, it shouldn’t be a part of the discipline process. Temper outbursts used to control behavior are self-defeating. They usually lead to an escalation of hostility and further displays of temper by both you and your teenager.

Don’t apply consequences in anger. Take whatever time you need to calm down and think through a situation before starting the discipline process. Physical punishment or aggression is wrong for teenagers – or for children of almost any age.

Think through your basic family rules and consequences and discuss them ahead of time with your teens. Allow their ideas to help fine tune a system they fully understand.

Teenagers are inventive and will discover any loopholes and new situations you haven’t thought about. When they confront you with something new, take the time to think through the consequences and the new rule before you give any on-the-spot discipline you may regret.

5. Be consistent in your follow through. A rule isn’t a rule when the consequences aren’t applied Exceptions should be rare or your teen will expect every time to be the exception. Have as few rules as possible, keep them simple but be willing to back up the rules you do have. Don’t be afraid to be the “bad guy” and incur their displeasure for a time.

6. Expect courtesy and respect in the way they talk to you. Understand the difference between legitimate expression of feeling and back talk. Have clear understandings that certain demeaning forms of address such as profanity, sarcasm, contempt and name-calling will not be tolerated. Follow the same rules of courtesy and respect you expect from them.

7. Have fun as a family and keep the overall tone of the family positive. Make time for the family. Do fun things together. Make memories. Don’t save up your interactions for when they do something wrong.

Admire them. Find good in what they do. Encourage them. Compliment them. Take interest in their accomplishments and activities. Notice and thank them for what they do well. Enjoy them as much as you can so when inevitable conflict occurs, it will be only a small part of your relationship.

Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist specializing in family business consultation and mediation with farm families. He lives in Wildwood, Mo., and can be contacted through his website