Adolescence is a minefield of biological, emotional, and psychological maturation — the Bermuda Triangle of development stages. Still, the truth is teenagers’ core needs are not very complicated.

The key to influencing your teen’s behavior lies in not trying to control or manipulate it. If you target or aggressively challenge problematic behaviors, especially with certain kinds of kids, that will only increase their defiance and alienation. And the last thing you want to do is make your teen’s behavior worse.

In his book, “Parenting Teens,” psychologist Bruce Naramore states that teenagers have six basic needs to be fulfilled during adolescence in order to become healthy, well-adjusted adults.

1. Develop their distinct identity and a sense of their uniqueness.

Help your teen identify areas of interest. Every teenager has a particular area of interest or areas where they excel whether it is in athletics, music, school, art, etc. Provide praise and encouragement. It is vital that teenagers receive praise and encouragement from parents or other influential adults.

2. Gradually separate from their childhood dependency on their parents.

You can do something to help them during this transition. Get your son or daughter involved with a “mentor.” A mentor can be a powerful force as teens develop convictions because “outside instruction” can make a special impression on their lives.

3. Develop meaningful relationships with peers and others outside the family.

As you may have already discovered, teenagers enjoy spending exceedingly more time away from home than they did at younger ages. Your adolescent’s peer group is important in order to satisfy their need for companionship, fun, emotional support, understanding, and intimacy. Although they still need these things from their families and other adults, it’s vital in their development to receive these things from friends as well.

4. Develop their capacity to relate well to the opposite sex.

When you are considering allowing dating, develop a dating contract. Having a written contract helps take the pressure off guessing when a teen is ready to date. It’s impossible to say that someone is ready to date at a specific age. Dating readiness should be the result of a teenager displaying certain internal character qualities like honor, integrity, responsibility, and resistance to peer pressure. The dating contract can provide the family with accountability, fairness, clarity, security, and togetherness.

5. Gain the confidence and skills to prepare for a career and adult responsibilities.

Not only is it important to encourage teenagers in the areas that they have interest, but it is also necessary to teach them real skills. Teaching skills to adolescents often results in increased achievement and, thus, in enhanced self-esteem. In other words, the more skills a teenager acquires (e.g., how to cook, change the oil, fix something broken, or build something), the better he will feel about himself.

6. Fashion their faith and value commitments and basic attitude toward life.

In a survey to over 5,000 adults, the question was asked, “How did your parents help you develop your own spiritual convictions?” Overwhelmingly, the No. 1 response was church attendance. The significance is that church is an important way to help your teenagers to foster ownership of their spiritual convictions.

Parents must make time when their teenagers need it – watching for teachable moments. When they come to us, we must be careful what we communicate. If we say, “Not now, I’m busy,” they’ll observe what we are doing and compare their importance to it. A teenager needs to know that he’s valuable and that his parents are available at times when he needs them. They may say they don’t need your attention, but they really do. Stay the course so that you and your teen will have a deeper relationship when they become an adult.

Mary Migliaro is an educator, parenting mentor and consultant who lives in Cherokee County.

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