Parents as role models for teenagers
When your child was younger, your role was to lay the foundations for his behaviour. For example, you probably showed your child how to cooperate and take turns with others. Now your child is in his teens, 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 like frustration and distress influences how your child regulates her 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 his 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 his 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, 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 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 to others.
Your influence on your teenage child
You’re an important influence on your child.
You might think that your child’s peers and friends have a stronger influence in the teenage years than you do. Friends and peers do influence your child, but so do you – it’s just that peer influence is different from your influence.
Your child’s friends are more likely to influence everyday behaviour, like the music your child listens to or the clothes he wears.
As a parent, you influence your child’s basic values, like religious values, and issues related to her future, like educational choices.
And the stronger your relationship with your child, the more influence you’ll have. That’s because your child values your good opinion, advice and support. In fact, it’s likely that when your child becomes a young adult, he’ll 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. 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.
Your influence over your child’s attitudes and behaviour
You can influence many aspects of your child’s behaviour as well as her 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 he made by managing his 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 her 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 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 peer pressure to experiment 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.
But 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 role model a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising regularly. 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 sends the message that social media is just one option for entertaining yourself and relaxing.
How your parenting approach affects your influence on your child
Some parents have an authoritative approach to parenting. This means that you’re firm about limits, but also warm and accepting of your child’s need to be an individual.
Parents who have an authoritative approach 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 – for example, they might be influenced to do well in school.
Other parenting approaches include:
- permissive – this means having few or no limits but being warm and accepting
- authoritarian – this means being controlling, with high expectations that children will obey rules and directions.
Parents with permissive or authoritarian approaches are more likely to have teenagers who are influenced into inappropriate behaviour.