7 Ways for Dads to Connect with Teens During the “Other Terrible Toos”

cover3The Terrible Twos is a normal stage of child development when toddlers try to show their growing independence, often with mood changes and temper tantrums. Children eventually grow out of the Terrible Twos, but they—and their parents—face another developmental stage that can bring similar challenges.

As your child becomes a teenager, the Other Terrible Toos can become routine: “No, that costs TOO much money.” “That’s TOO loud. Turn down the music.” “Those pants are TOO loose on you. Pull them up.” “You spend TOO much time texting.” “Is it TOO hard for you to put your dirty clothes in the hamper?” “Don’t you think that’s TOO much makeup?”

The Other Terrible Toos can strain a dad’s tolerance for his child’s increasing desire for independence. In addition, the Other Terrible Toos can be a struggle for young people as they enter new environments and new relationships that test their values and self-discipline.

However tough the Other Terrible Toos may be, this developmental stage is a critical time for fathers to help their children learn how to become responsible adults. “Each parenting stage has its own rewards and challenges,” says Kenneth Braswell, Director, National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC). “The key is to keep the lines of communication open to help children navigate each turn in their life journey.”

Dads can help teens stay on the right track by building a loving connection with them in several key ways:

Be involved. Simply spend time with your teens, especially one-on-one time. Pay attention to them, share conversation, and actively listen to what they have to say. Talking about their favorite television shows, music, friends, school activities, and other interests is a good start. Involved fathers often make sacrifices, such as giving up some of their own favorite activities, to devote more time to interacting with their teens. Together, make some memories your teens will keep for a lifetime.

Be accepting. Experimenting with fashion, friends, hobbies, or sports is a normal part of the Other Terrible Toos. Don’t let outward appearances or odd fashion statements come between you and your teens. Make them understand that although you will hold them accountable for their decisions and behaviors, you will love them no matter what.  Teenagers who feel accepted by their fathers are more likely to trust them and open up about their thoughts, fears, and dreams.

Be affectionate. Most dads recognize that young children thrive on attention and affection. However, many fathers do not realize that these needs do not change as a child grows. Teenagers crave acceptance too–especially from their parents.  Teens often act as if they do not need or want love and attention from their fathers, but they actually do. They look to you for support and information. Tell teens often that you love them. Something as simple as a few encouraging words or a quick hug can strengthen your relationship with your teenager tremendously. Despite the eye rolling, your teen might offer a hug in return!

Be consistent. When you show stable personal behavior and parenting habits, teens know what to expect and what is expected of them. Consistent support, combined with fair rules and their regular enforcement, give teens certainty in their lives. Aim to show your teens consistent behavior, even when it is difficult to do.

Be a role model.     Providing physical or financial support to your children is essential, but it is not enough. Fathers also need to give emotional support, act as role models, and guide their teens. Modeling responsible behavior is key for any dad seeking to teach his teen responsible habits and behaviors. No parent is perfect, so when you make mistakes, recognize them, apologize when appropriate, and try to use those opportunities to model accountability to your teen.

Be available.  A father who is routinely unavailable to his teenagers, despite saying he loves them, can make them believe other aspects of his life take priority. When a dad is available, he demonstrates to teens that they are important. Being available can be as simple as helping teens with homework or chatting with their friends when they come over.

Be fun.  At times, it is easy for fathers to take themselves too seriously; so many interactions between you and your teens are to correct or direct them. While keeping the rules is important, you can be more than an authority figure to your teens. Fun and fundamentals can live together happily. Being able to laugh together can open the lines of communication with teens. They will be more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings—even admitting mistakes—which can be a starting point for important conversations about conduct and character.

Being a loving father is not easy. It requires commitment and time, no matter what age your children are. Staying connected with teens can bring some unique challenges to both you and your child. NRFC offers practical tools and resources to help fathers build a stronger connection with their children at any age. Visit www.fatherhood.gov or call 877-4DAD411. Stay in touch with NRFC on Facebook and Twitter.

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