Parenting a teenager is not easy.

You have to lessen the reign and prepare them to leave the nest, but at the same time their behavior is erratic and they won’t listen to you.

They may be impulsive, moody and they may experiment with behaviors that are alarming.

The good news is this– it is normal.  The reason your teenager behaves this way is a combination of psychological and physiological reasons.  The prefrontal cortex, the part of their brain that manages impulsivity and provides them with the skills to behave rationally and reasonably is in flux.  It is developing and may not be fully operational until the early to mid twenties.

These changes in the prefrontal cortex lead to impulsive (and sometimes stupid) behavior, but also increased emotionality and creativity.  It is overwhelming for parents of teens.  And it can feel overwhelming to your teenager too who may be as concerned about their own emotional reactivity as you are or be struggling with fears around the impulsive behaviors of their peers who are sturggling as well.

In addition to huge physical changes, their entire world is changing.  A future in which they are adults out on their own is within reach and can be terrifying and/or exciting.  They are looking at a life sentence of adulting and no turning back.  It’s a lot to take in.  Responsibility may feel both alluring and frightening. They may struggle with wanting to behave like a child and also wanting to behave like an adult which can be erratic and strange if you’re the parent.

How can a teenager behave like a child one minute and appear independent and adult-like in the next?

If it’s normal, does this mean you don’t have to worry?

Sadly, no.  It is normal, but your teenager needs you now more than ever.  They are more emotional, scared, and impulsive than ever before.  They need you to help them navigate this difficult life transition while avoiding the dark side of common teen pitfalls including substance use, self-harm, texting and driving, sexual experimentation, mood disorders, or unsafe relationships.

Being a teenager is not easy and even if your teen behaves like they know everything, they need you to help them find their way through.

 Some parents fall into the trap of becoming their teenager’s “friend” and feel a false sense of security thinking that if they know their child is experimenting with drugs and alcohol or staying out all night, it is somehow safer.  Dangerous behavior is dangerous regardless of whether or not you know about it.

Your teenager does not need a friend.

Your teenager needs a parent.

Setting healthy limits are important because eventually, your teenager will need to be able to set healthy limits for themselves.  Of course, having healthy communication and being able to talk to your child is ideal.  It sets the stage for your child to be able to have healthy relationships and set healthy boundaries too.

If you suspect your teenager’s experimentation is pushing the limits and they are not safe, therapy can help.

Sometimes, teenagers are better able to confide in an unbiased adult and better able to explore their behaviors in a less emotionally charged environment.  While as a parent, you want to be that adult, sometimes teenagers aren’t open to that.

Family therapy can also help with the issues that are coming up in the home.  Problems with a teenager can create or be the result of problems in the family.  It can be difficult and confusing to parent a teenager.If you need support or help in doing that, it doesn’t make you less of a parent.  In fact, it can make you more of a parent for recognizing the problem and getting help to address it.

Talking to your teen about your concerns may not be easy, but here are some tips to help you.

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