The ABCD’s of Parenting Teens

Highly healthy teens need four things from their parents to maintain their emotional health during their preteen and adolescent years. I call them the ABCD’s of parenting:

A = Affirmation

B = Blameless love

C = Connectedness

D = Discipline

I define emotional health as the state of one’s emotional and mental well-being. I know that mixing the words teen, emotional, and mental well-being is like mixing chili powder into a cake mix—they’re disagreeable ingredients.

Teens are highly emotional, and it’s easy to question their mental well-being. Anyone who has spent time around teens has witnessed their incredible highs and the earth-shattering lows. One moment they’re on top of the world (“I aced my biology test!”), and the next moment they’re inconsolable (“I’m ruined—no one asked me to the homecoming bash”). There will be days when your teen’s emotional wheel will be pumped to the point of bursting, and there will be days when it’s flatter than a crêpe suzette.

Their sudden mood shifts cause everyone to be on edge. As you might suspect, hormones are the underlying reason behind their inflated highs and out-of-air lows. These are the times to maintain a steady hand on the rudder. Just as a sudden jerk of the wheel can tip a boat over, any emotional overreactions from your side will feel unsettling to them.

To maintain an even keel and a steady course, look for opportunities to Affirm and Approve.

Love them unconditionally, or what I call “Blameless love,” even when they’re driving you crazy.

Stay Connected with them, even though they’re away from the house more often, and ensure that their out-of-home connections are highly healthy.

Maintain Discipline (coaching and cheerleading) as you continue to train these adolescents so they can become self-sufficient, highly healthy young adults.

I know it wasn’t long ago that these teens were cuddly creatures who hung on your every word and accepted everything you said at face value. Now they’re growing up and leaving childhood, beginning a journey that will take them to the Land of Adults. They’re not quite there. Teens aren’t mature enough or prepared enough to go it alone or to have life all figured out—and that’s simply because they’re still teens.

This is the time when you need to be an emotional rock for them. The teen years are a critical time for mothers to be stay-at-home moms—or at least to be home when they arrive home after the end of the school day. And it isn’t a time for Dad to be AWOL either. When parents are physically present and emotionally available, they strengthen family intimacy and build healthier children.

Walt Larimore, M.D. has been called “one of America’s best known family physicians.” He is a nationally-known and nationally sought after speaker and health expert.