Parents as role models for pre-teens and teenagers
When your child was younger, your role was to lay the foundations for their behaviour. For example, you probably showed your child how to cooperate and take turns with others. Now your child is older, they can start taking responsibility for their own behaviour.
But you’re still an important role model.
What you do shows your child how you want them to behave. For example, how you cope with feelings like frustration and distress influences how your child regulates their emotions. What you eat, how much you exercise, and how you look after yourself all influence your child.
What you say is also important. You can help your child to manage and control their behaviour by talking about how behaviour affects other people. You can also talk more with your child about the differences between right and wrong. Now’s a good time for this because your child is developing their ability to understand other people’s experiences and feelings.
Practical tips for role-modelling
Here are some practical ideas that can help you be a role model for your teenage child:
- Include your child in family discussions, talk openly and give them input into family decisions, rules and expectations. These are good ways of helping your child understand how people can get along with others and work together.
- Try to do the things you say your child should do. Teenagers can and do notice when you don’t!
- Keep a positive attitude – think, act and talk in an optimistic way.
- Take responsibility for yourself by admitting your own mistakes and talking about what you might do differently to avoid the same mistakes in the future. 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 in the way you speak about and behave towards other people.
- Be kind to yourself, and treat yourself with the same warmth, care and understanding you’d give to someone you care about.
Your influence on pre-teens and teenagers
You’re an important influence on your child, along with your child’s friends and peers. But your influence on your child is different from the influence of their friends.
Your child’s friends are more likely to influence everyday behaviour, like the music your child listens to or the clothes they wear.
As a parent, you influence your child’s basic values, like religious values, and issues related to their future, like educational choices.
And the stronger your relationship with your child, the more influence you’ll have, because your child will be more likely to seek your guidance and value your opinion and support. In fact, if you have a strong relationship as your child becomes a young adult, they’ll probably end up with values, beliefs and behaviour that are similar to yours.
Teenagers need you to stay in touch with them and what they’re up to, even if they don’t show it. You can take an interest in what they’re doing with their friends without invading their space if you balance your child’s privacy with monitoring and trust.
Ideas for influencing pre-teen and teenage attitudes and behaviour
You can influence many aspects of your child’s behaviour as well as their attitudes. Here are some of the areas and ways you can influence your child.
When your child was much younger, you probably influenced the friends they made by managing their social activities and friendships. 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 their choice of friends.
It can seem that because teenagers and their friends are similar, they’re influencing each other. But the main reason that friends are similar is that teenagers, like adults, choose to be friends with people who are like them.
You can help your child to choose and build respectful relationships by role-modelling respectful and caring behaviour in your own relationships. And if you find yourself in a disrespectful relationship, model positive ways to manage that – for example, by being assertive, talking with the person involved or seeking professional help.
You can also stand up for yourself in a respectful way. This can be as simple as politely saying no to others – for example, ‘I can’t work late today because I promised to help at my child’s soccer game’. This helps your child learn important skills and ways of relating to others.
Alcohol and other drugs
You might worry about how your child will manage when peers are experimenting with alcohol and other drugs. But it’s not just friends who influence teenagers in this area – you also have an influence.
You can try to discourage your child from trying alcohol by talking with your child about alcohol and other drugs, the effects they have and the risks involved.
The way you use alcohol and other drugs also influences your child’s attitudes and behaviour, so you can be a role model for safe habits. For example, think about the different messages you might send by drinking occasionally and in moderation, compared with drinking daily and heavily.
You can model healthy food choices and healthy physical activity for your child by eating well and exercising regularly yourself. You could involve your child – for example by swimming together, or going for a family walk.
You can also try to avoid making negative comments about your body – and other people’s too. This sends important messages to your child about body image and acceptance.
Attitude to learning
If you make education seem interesting and enjoyable, your child is more likely to have a positive attitude to school and learning. For example, you could learn a language or a craft like knitting or painting, or you could read about an unfamiliar topic. And why not spend some time reading for pleasure? It’s a great way to encourage your child to pick up a book.
Your own technology use sends powerful messages to your child about the place technology has in your family’s life. For example, always walking around with your phone sends your child the message that your phone is very important to you. But scrolling through social media and then going for a family walk, and not using your phone unless it’s for an emergency, sends the message that social media is just one option for entertaining yourself and relaxing.