Best Intentions Gone Wrong: What are some common mistakes parents make that could actually hurt their children’s mental and physical health in the long term?

Parents do not typically start out parenting their teen or tween with poor intentions. The biggest mistakes are sometimes born from the best intentions. Understanding some of these issues can go a long way in preventing unnecessary pain and emotional problems in tweens and teens today. 

What are some common mistakes parents make that could actually hurt their children’s mental and physical health in the long term? The following are some common ways parents can unknowingly increase the chances for emotional health problems in their tween or teen:

  • Expecting the worst – This is a common mistake the best of parents make. Parents are fearful of the teenage years and oftentimes expect bad things to happen. They anticipate the worst mistakes that their child could possibly make and feel as if they have no control over what happens. This can act as a self-fulfilling prophecy as negative expectations can foster the behavior that is being dreaded the most. In this environment, teens get the message that they are only acceptable and “good” if they aren’t doing horrible things. Instead of expecting the worst to happen, celebrate the good that is happening right in front of you. Celebrate and encourage your teen’s individuality as it can very well blossom into something amazing! 
  • Overload of parenting advice – Many well-meaning parents scour the web and other resources for the latest parenting advice or book that focuses on a specific problem. Parents often lack the confidence in their own parenting skills and place too much trust in “expert” advice oftentimes following recommendations exactly as laid out. Each parent and teen relationship is unique along with their set of challenges. Different personalities react very differently to the same situation so trying to apply a “one size fits all” approach to parenting teenagers often leads to disaster. Outside expert advice is useful for gaining perspective on specific situations, but take what you need and leave the rest. Parents should “trust their gut” more often as it is normally the best predictor. 
  • Not choosing your battles wisely – There will be plenty of issues and problems that arise that must be addressed so choosing your battles carefully is of essence. You may not like their choice in clothing or hairstyle, but at the end of the day as long as those things are not a matter of basic modesty, let it go! Life is a good teacher; allowing teens to make mistakes every now and again is not a bad thing. It is out of these mistakes that growth occurs and life lessons are learned. Parents are quick to rescue and want to help their teenager avoid pain and hardships, but with certain issues it’s necessary to let life expose their poor choice. It will be more effective than you trying to convince them that their choice is not a good one. Teenagers need the freedom to make mistakes, but need to know that their parents will be there for them regardless. This is one of the greatest things parents can do to help foster independence. 
  • Overlooking the important stuff – While hairstyle and clothing choices can be overlooked, major issues such as drugs, alcohol, risky sexual lifestyle, and experimenting with the latest feel good trend should never be ignored. While parents yearn desperately for acceptance by their teen, many make the mistake of trying to be a friend first and a parent second. Teens have plenty of friends, so when parents try to make that a priority, it sets the teen up for failure. Many parents miss the warning signs and subtle clues leading up to major problems. Slipping grades are disregarded as a temporary struggle; moodiness is attributed to hormones and withdrawal overlooked as a normal teenage thing. These are potential warning signs that the teen is struggling or is heading for trouble. Being aware is one of the greatest assets to parenting teens.

These mistakes are not intentional most of the time. Parents start off with what seems to them as pure motives, but ultimately these things can contribute to the downward spiral of tweens and teens today. Parenting is a combination of trial and error, but being aware of some ways that contribute to a decline in mental health for today’s tween and teen is the first step in preventing more emotional issues down the road.

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