An open mind can help parents get through the teen years.

Strategies for Immature Teens

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

Looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to older teens. Teens in mid- to late adolescence -- ages 15 and older -- can outwardly resemble a young adult. Inwardly, however, teens have yet to fully mature. Parenting an immature teen requires patience and persistence. A good memory that helps you to recall your experiences in youth can help you empathize with your teen when he exhibits childish and perhaps at times infantile behaviors.

1. Let Go of the Small Stuff

A parent-teen relationship that's based on respect and trust helps keep the lines of communication open. Do your best to understand what's motivating your teen, even when you think she's making an immature decision. For example, if your teen wants to return a pair of jeans you bought for her because her peers would raise their eyebrows in disapproval, it can be easier and harmless to let it go. Permitting her to exchange the "socially unacceptable jeans" for a cooler pair can help keep the peace.

2. Separate the Behavior From the Person

Make a clear distinction between your teen's immature acts from her innate character when you bring up a poor choice or action, advises the USAA Educational Foundation. If your immature teen decides that it makes more sense to skip his homework to catch a movie with his buddies, don't berate him when he brings home a poor grade on a quiz. You might say something along the lines of, "You are such a smart boy but blowing off your homework was an irresponsible choice." Remind your teen that poor choices such as slacking off on schoolwork can affect his future. Praise your teen when he makes sound decisions.

3. Peer Pressure, Foresight and the Emotionality of the Teen Brain

Resisting social pressure can be one of the most trying challenges for a teen because it requires a level of maturity many teens have yet to develop -- like the ability to foresee the possible consequences of a behavior. A teen might not stop to think "If I have a cigarette I might get hooked" or "If I have unprotected sex I might contract a sexually transmitted disease." Many teens also lack the emotional stamina to make mature choices out of fear that they'll be teased or left behind. The brain circuitry involved in emotional responses changes during the teen years, according to the National Institutes of Health. These changes might determine to what degree various parts of the brain respond to pressing and powerful emotional responses.

4. Teaching Responsibility

Encourage your teen to participate in positive activities such as athletics or volunteering. Being part of a team can help teens learn to effectively cooperate and compromise. Spending time in a homeless shelter or bagging groceries at a food bank gives teens a firsthand look at the harsh realities of life. Remind your teen to put others first rather than only thinking of himself. For example, if someone drops their lunch tray, helping cleanup the mess is the mature response; if an elderly man lacks the strength to open a heavy door, it's appropriate to open it for him.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

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