You have an important part to play in your child’s life – even if it doesn’t always feel that way. What you do and say guide your child’s behaviour, attitudes and beliefs over the long term.
Being a role model for your child
When your child was younger, your role was to lay the blueprints for his behaviour – for example, cooperating with others and showing how to take turns. Now your child is a teenager, he can start taking responsibility for his own behaviour.
But you’re still an important role model.
What you do shows your child how you want her to behave. For example, how you cope with feelings such as frustration and distress influences how your child regulates her emotions. What you eat, how much you exercise, and how you look after yourself will all influence your child.
What you say is also important. You can help your child to manage and control his own behaviour by talking about how behaviour affects other people. You can also use more complex reasoning and examples to talk about the differences between right and wrong. Now’s a good time for this because your child is developing his ability to understand other people’s experiences and feelings.
Tips for role-modelling
- Include your child in family discussions, and give her input into family decisions, rules and expectations. These are good ways of helping her understand how people can get along with others and work together.
- Try to practise what you preach. Teenagers can and do notice when you don’t!
- Work towards a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising regularly. Try to avoid making negative comments about your body – and other people’s too. Not only will you be healthier, but you’ll send an important message about body image and acceptance.
- Show that you enjoy education and learning. If you make it seem interesting and enjoyable rather than a chore, your child is more likely to have a positive attitude to school.
- Keep a positive attitude – think, act and talk in an optimistic way.
- Take responsibility for yourself by admitting your own mistakes and talking about how you can correct them. Try not to blame everything that goes wrong on other people or circumstances.
- Use problem-solving skills to deal with challenges or conflicts in a calm and productive way. Getting upset and angry when a problem comes up encourages your child to respond in the same way.
- Show kindness and respect to others.
Influencing your teenager
You’re still an important influence on your child. Recent research shows that teenagers generally stay close to their parents, and that they value and respond to their parents’ good opinion, advice and support. Your child’s peers and friends will also be important in the teenage years. But parents and peers influence different things.
As a parent, you influence your child’s basic values, such as religious values, and issues related to her future, such as educational choices. The stronger your relationship with your child, the more influence you’ll have.
Your child’s friends are more likely to influence everyday behaviour, such as the music your child listens to, the clothes he wears and whether he picks on or bullies someone.
Teenagers need you to stay in touch with them and what they’re up to. You can take an interest in what they’re doing with their friends and also encourage group activities. You might like to read more in our article on privacy, monitoring and trust
Research shows that parents who have an authoritative approach – firm about limits, but also warm and accepting of their child’s need to be an individual – tend to have teenagers who are less likely to be influenced by peer pressure to misbehave. These teenagers are also more likely to be influenced in positive ways, such as to do well in school.
Parents who are either permissive (few or no limits but warm and accepting) or authoritarian (controlling, with high expectations that children will obey rules and directions) are more likely to have teenagers who are influenced into inappropriate behaviour.
Your influence over your child’s friendships
When your child was younger, you probably influenced the friends she made by managing her social activities as well as actively guiding her towards certain friends and away from others.
In the teenage years, you do still have an indirect influence over your child’s friends. You shape your child’s attitudes and values, which in turn shape his choice of friends.
We often think that because teenagers and their friends are similar, they’re influencing each other. But the main reason that friends are similar is that teenagers choose to be friends with people who are like them.
Even when you approve of your child’s friends, you might find that their influence isn’t always what you want. Peers can and do influence each other in positive ways. But peer pressure
might also lead your child to experiment with smoking, alcohol and other drugs.
Your influence over your child’s alcohol and other drug use
You might worry about how your child will manage issues such as alcohol and other drugs, and peer pressure to experiment. But it’s not just friends who influence teenagers in this area – you also have an influence.
You’re unlikely to stop your child from trying alcohol, but you can be a role model for safe habits. The way you use alcohol and other drugs will influence your child’s attitudes and behaviour. Think about the different messages you might send if you:
- drink occasionally and in moderation
- drink daily and heavily
- have a cigarette after every meal or with every cup of coffee
- say things like, ‘I need a drink/joint/cigarette – I had a shocking day at work’, or ‘I’m getting a headache – I’d better have some Panadol’.
You can also talk with your child about alcohol and other drugs, the effects they have and the risks involved. Our articles on preventing and minimising alcohol use and alcohol and other drugs in adolescence have more information.
There’s no safe level of alcohol for young people under 15. It’s best for young people to avoid alcohol until the age of 18. The longer teenagers’ alcohol use can be delayed, the better. Young people’s brains are still developing, and when they drink alcohol there’s a risk their brains won’t develop properly.