Teens Need Positive Regard | Center for Growth Therapy

Teens Need Positive Regard

Sonya — Intern therapist

Parenting can be one of the most difficult experiences for many families. However, parenting teenagers can sometimes make the most well-equipped parent want to hibernate until after their child reaches adulthood. Unfortunately, we can’t fast forward life during those difficult teenage years. We must go through the process regardless of how difficult the road ahead. Sometimes parenting a teenager can cause any parent to question their competency and sanity. Many parents struggle with connecting with their teenager, so you are not alone if you are finding it difficult to have a conversation with your teen without it turning into an argument.

Teen years can be a difficult stage of life, a time where the most important thing in their life is their social experience. For the most part, parents are not included as a priority during the teen years. Parents are usually on the sideline trying to, sometimes unsuccessfully, be heard and seen by their teen. Understanding that even the best parents struggle with raising teens and that parents are not always going to have the answers can help remove some of the pressure and need to be that perfect parent.

Utilizing the theoretical approach of unconditional positive regard towards your teenager can be a beneficial style of parenting. Positive regard is a way to remove your emotions out of the equation, while helping your teen develop a sense of self-worth. Carl Rogers, one of the founding fathers of humanistic psychology introduced the idea of unconditional positive regard for clients. His understanding was, if you provide an environment that allows others to feel worthy, valid, and free from judgment, they will be motivated to start the process of healing. You may have heard of unconditional love, however, another way to help develop an emotionally healthy teen is by providing positive regard. Which means being there for your child when they mess up, ensuring that they still feel loved, valued and respected despite their mistakes.

There will be times, maybe many times when your teen is behaving in ways that contradicts your values and beliefs. Adolescence is the time when our children begin to explore and experiment with new thoughts and ideas. Providing a safe and open environment can help decrease the risk of them making risky or dangerous choices as they get older. As scary as it may seem to watch your teen make mistakes, it is not the end of the world, and this phase will not last forever. Understanding that it is a natural part of teen development can help ease your anxiety and stress. Your teen is not bad or destined for destruction just because they make mistakes.

It is normal to feel hurt and disappointed when you are not connecting to your teen. However, there are ways we can separate the behavior from the person, which allows for unconditional positive regard towards your teen. Below are some steps you can take to help establish a meaningful relationship with your teen by using positive regard.

  1. Understand that your teen is not an extension of you, but their own individual who is learning the world around them. As much as we desire our children to be a reflection of ourselves and carry on our beliefs and values, sometimes that doesn’t happen. Allowing your teen the space to develop and identify their own values and beliefs without judging them is important for them to learn how to build integrity and confidence. Instead of trying to change them, get to know them and see the world from their perspective. When your teen makes a mistake, help them through the learning process of becoming an adulthood.

  2. Accept the fact that your teen will make mistakes or even rebel against your rules. Teens don’t always make the best decisions, whether it’s staying out past curfew, cutting class, or drinking your favorite bottle of wine, understand that conflicts will happen. Your first reaction to rebellion may be to use punishment to correct the behavior. This may be effective in reducing undesirable behavior; however, it can also lead to more conflict between the teen and parent. This doesn’t mean we as parents ignore the behavior, however a more effective approach could be talking with your teen to understand the origin of the issue. Help them see the consequences of their behavior without judgement. Given the chance teens can resolve conflicts and improve their behavior when given the support. However, don’t rule out seeking professional help if the issues are too overwhelming for either you or your teen. The Center for Growth offers counseling when needed, to teens, families, individuals and couples to help begin the healing process.

  3. Separate the undesirable behavior from your teen. It is important to understand that the mistake doesn’t define your teen. Try to focus on the behavior and understand that it is normal for teens to test the limits. This doesn’t mean that they are doomed to a life of failure. Avoid name calling or labeling your teen based on their behavior. For instance, if your teen is caught stealing, don’t call them a thief. Identify the behavior as stealing, however redemption is possible if the teen understands that their behavior is unacceptable and can be changed. As opposed to your teen believing that their behavior defines their existence, and they are now and forever a thief. This is a chance to help your teen see the consequences of their behavior, without sentencing them to a label that may stick with them for years to come.

  4. Help your teen see that they are still worthy and lovable even when they make mistakes. Maintaining love and support for your teen while addressing their behavior, helps them feel worthy and valuable. Your teen may feel guilt or embarrassment when they mess up, therefore it is important to be there for them showing them positive regard. Your teen will need to feel that they can make a mistake and still feel loved and valued as a person. When they see that your love will not be taken away, they are more likely to come to you for guidance and support during difficult times. They are more likely to be open and honest with you, because they understand that you will not judge them or belittle them when they make a mistake.

  5. Hold them accountable for their behavior. Teaching your teen that there are consequences for their actions is an important part of development and maturity. Every action has a consequence, whether positive or negative. For instance, respecting curfew by coming home on time allows you the privilege of using the family car. However, not respecting curfew will lead to being driven back and forth to your destination. Putting the responsibility on your teen helps them develop critical thinking skills, by making choices that they can feel proud of.

Having positive regard means being able to accept someone for who they are, allowing them to make mistakes without the fear of being rejected if they don’t get it right. Teenagers are in a stage where they are trying to figure out where they fit in the world. A stage where they are testing limits, experimenting and discovering new possibilities. In other words, they are at the stage in life where trial and error is dominant. Teens want the freedom to figure out who they are, while also needing the security of knowing their parents are going to love and support them unconditionally throughout the process. Trying to find that balance of giving your teen space to grow, setting boundaries for their protection and reframing from being judgmental when they make mistakes can be challenging. What is needed is having the ability to see your child as a person who deserves to be loved and cared for despite their issues.

Sometimes it can be difficult to provide positive regard to our teens because we never received that type of love from others. When there is no example or role model for parents to look to, it can be difficult to exhibit the behavior towards our teens. So how can parents provide positive regard to their children when they never received it themselves? The first step is learning how to provide it for yourself. We hear the phrase “you are your worse critic”, meaning we are very judgmental of ourselves when we make a mistake. Allowing yourself the space to be imperfect without feeling guilty, ashamed or inadequate is a step in the right direction towards positive regard for self.

Being able to provide positive regard for self can be challenging, however, the more you practice being nonjudgmental to yourself, the more you will learn to be nonjudgmental to others. So, the next time you make a mistake, own it, accept it and correct it without the blame, guilt or shame. When you can separate the person from the mistake it frees you from focusing on judging and allows you to focus on healing and progression.


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