Parenting Teens - Guiding Kids Through Turbulent Years

The teenage years are filled with change. Body, mind, and feelings are maturing quickly. Teens are also learning about who they are and who they want to become. To do that, they need to try new things. But that means taking risks.

“Parenting during the teen years can be a very exciting but also a really risky time,” explains Dr. Kevin Haggerty, an NIH-funded prevention researcher at the University of Washington.

That’s because a teen’s brain is still developing and is extra sensitive to emotion and to things that feel good. The parts of the brain that control impulses and rational decision-making are still being formed.

“That creates a perfect storm for quick addiction,” Haggerty explains. It puts teens at higher risk for alcohol, drug, and tobacco use, high-risk sexual behavior, and risky driving choices. They’re also more likely to experience mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.

Teens can make unhealthy food choices and neglect physical activity. Most don’t get the eight to 10 hours of sleep they need each night. But certain parenting strategies can help guide kids toward healthier and less risky choices.

“Keeping lines of communication open, monitoring and knowing your children’s peers, and staying engaged and connected as a parent are the key ways to reduce risk,” explains Dr. Beth Stormshak, an NIH-funded psychologist at the University of Oregon.

Stormshak and Haggerty have studied different parenting programs designed to reduce risky teen behavior. Their research and other studies have shown that some strategies can help.