Unlike a lot of my ‘smug-parent’ friends, I didn’t gel instantly with my kids when they were little people. Some parents prefer that stage, when their children are needy dependent and still have some parental control; I always considered myself to be a more hip parent.
I wanted to be friends with my kids and waited patiently for the day that they would develop a sense of humor and I could finally communicate with them at my level.
What was I thinking?
It was such a crazy aspiration anyway because I had already experienced the emotional confusion caused by a parent who wants to ‘parent’ and be your mate at the same time, with my own father. My young father treated me like a friend most of the time. We would go to the pub together, I was always invited out to dinner with his friends – in truth, we had a lot of fun together. So when he had to discipline me, it was emotionally confusing and hurtful.
I should have remembered that with my own teenagers.
Parenting teenagers compared to parenting under-12s requires a very different skill set. With toddlers you need patience, physical strength, creativity (and a high boredom threshold). With teenagers you still need immeasurable patience, as well as a thick skin and some serious backbone. Where once your kids were cheeky and cute, they now morph into angry, sullen creatures who answer back rudely with the slightest provocation.
Which means that your parenting techniques have to adapt to the physical and mental changes going on in your kids’ lives.
Teenagers have an opinion about everything – their hormones talk on their behalf. In fact, hormones are responsible for the mood swings that make teenagers irrational most of the time. Added to which, there are the complications of the opposite (or same) sex, peer pressure and experimentation with alcohol and drugs, which for some can become the main focus of their lives for a short time.
Being a teenager is a roller-coaster journey of self-discovery and more often than not they disregard all the precautions you spent the first thirteen years of their lives educating them about. And it hurts.
The peer pressure (which began in primary school) and that need to ‘fit in’ moves up a notch during this stage, and teenagers need someone to release those external pressures on.
Which is where you come in.
You become their punch bag. If you can accept that premise early on as a parent and give them some leeway for the fact that their brain is still developing (although the wiring is still a little tangled), you’ll be halfway to keeping the communication lines open.
(You’re also a saint.)
Keeping the communication lines open is your ultimate goal.
Of course you still have to discipline them and make sure the boundaries are still clear, but you now need to adapt to their needs, even negotiate with them at times, otherwise you run the risk of losing them. This can be a mentally overwhelming time for kids as they begin to deal with adult issues such as relationships, alcohol and jobs for the first time, as well as the overload of schoolwork.
And let’s be honest, high school can be a bitch-fest – that’s nothing new, except that the pressure to fit in is far more public now with social networking. Becoming a teenager can be a sink or swim experience for some, especially for those who refuse to conform to the accepted code of conduct required for popularity. I have yet to meet a parent whose child has not suffered some form of social ostracism or bullying during their high school years.
While being a teenager opens their minds to be embracing of new experiences, this stage can blur the consequences of their behavior too. While they become more aware of their place in society, more narcissistic, more needing of peer support, there is also more opportunity to fail.
And no matter how awful they are to us, we need to be there to pick up the pieces. It’s that annoying thing that always gets in the way called ‘unconditional love’.
So here are my tips on how to survive the ‘terrible teens’:
- Remain objective if they communicate details of friendship issues at school with you. Make suggestions, but NEVER criticize. If you bag their mates, they’ll hate you; if you side with their friends’ behavior, they’ll hate you even more.
- If there is an issue between you that can’t seem to be resolved, try and meet them halfway. Try to keep the communication lines open at all times.
- Never truthfully comment on their appearance if they look crap – they will never forget it and this is their time to experiment with their image and development into who they want to be. (I reserve judgment on nipple piercing and tattoos).
- Learn to apologize so that they do.
- Be reasonable about curfews. The harder you come down on them, the more they will push back.
- Pick your battles – does it really matter if he doesn’t shower as often as you’d like?
- A lot of them will experiment with smoking and drinking – you don’t have to ‘accept’ it but trust me, there are worse things that they could be doing.
- Always phone the parent of the ‘friend’ they are (apparently) staying with after a party. They will hate you for it, but it will save you searching the city in the early hours.
- Never assume that other parents share the same moral codes as you.
- Expect your home to be treated as a hotel from the age of sixteen (and the local doss house if you live anywhere amenable to local pubs/clubs). This is them growing up and becoming independent – try not to resent it.
- Make sure any ‘guest’ teenagers know where the bathroom is or you will have unexpected guests in your bedroom in the early hours.
- Boys eat a lot of food during growth phases, particularly late at night – it is not always a sign of drug-induced ‘munchies’.
- Girls are often less tidy and hygienic than teenage boys.
- Never attempt to read texts on their phone or messages on their Facebook, no matter how tempting it is. It is an invasion of their privacy and may lead them to react irrationally. Building or renewing trust is your aim. You probably don’t really want to know what’s going on in the intimate parts of their social life anyway and you are morally in the wrong no matter how you justify it.
- Never try to appear cool with their friends – they want you to come across as a ‘sad’, old parent.
- Do not let them borrow anything of value.
- Above all, remember that you are their role model. They are still learning their behaviors from you.
- Listen more, react less.
Louisa Simmonds writes about teenagers, ADHD, family life and middle-age at www.mymidlifemayhem.wordpress.com.
Is there anything you would add to Lousia’s list?