Teenagers can be a challenge, and for parents it can feel like being back at square one again with hormones, friendships, attitude, pushing boundaries, working out who they are, who they want to be, social media and striving for independence but needing reassurance at the same time.
My experience so far is that it is a rollercoaster of emotions, tears, worry, fear and frustration, along with love, laughter, happiness, pride and good company.
I have two teenagers and when able to sit back and observe them, I love to see them interacting, learning about life, developing their beliefs and passions, learning to stand up for themselves and what they believe in. But they must also learn from their mistakes and how they are treated – friendships are important but this can hurt as much as provide happiness. Rejection is hard and so is taking responsibility for themselves and their actions. One of the hardest things as a parent is not being able to fix problems for them – as our children get older, this is something they increasingly have to do for themselves.
Parenting teenagers is far from easy at times, in fact the learning curve has been steep and I have felt as lost and as helpless as when they were first born but this is what I have learnt so far…
- Teenagers need a parent, not another friend. It’s a fine line and while we love our kids and want to spend time with them, I have always felt that my job is to guide, counsel, teach, support and reassure as well as love, look after and keep safe.
- There are times when your teenager may seem like a stranger to you.
- Be around so there is the time and space for them to talk and open up if they need to.
- Go with your instincts – you will probably know if something isn’t quite right with them.
- Make home the safe place – yes there needs to be boundaries (we’ve had groundings & phone removals) but the world can be a tough place to navigate and I strongly believe that home needs to be more about love, communication and reassurance, especially when dealing with normal teenage behaviour, rather than making them feel bad about something they probably already feel bad about. It’s a tricky balance sometimes but I don’t ever want my kids to feel they are never comfortable at home.
- Pick your battles – otherwise life with your teenager can be one long bicker/whinge fest.
- Don’t hold on to arguments – once it has been dealt with, that’s it.
- Listen to them and take an interest in what they enjoy and what is going on in their life – their friends, music, sport, school and those damn youtubers.
- Own your fears – we get stressed because our teenagers aren’t always where they say they are going to be, because they are late and because we just want to keep them safe and they just don’t get it. It can be a cause of clashes and there is no easy answer because we can’t lock them in the house away from the world, they need to learn to navigate it. But what they want to do has to be age appropriate, we need to know where they are going, who with, how they are getting somewhere and how they are getting home. I have said no to plenty of stuff but I have also had to learn to say yes because there was no reason to say no beyond my own fears.
- Communicate and, as they get older, talk to them like the young adults they are. Sometimes they need to know if you are upset, especially if they have caused it. It is also about asking them how they are and talking through problems if they need that.
- Remember that their teenage brain is going through huge growth and development – they can struggle to understand situations and instructions, they may not be able to multi-task and they may even struggle to read facial expressions so they can easily interpret comments and body language incorrectly.
- Most teenagers need to experiment with everything – their look, their likes, their sexuality, with drugs, with drink, with friends and with pushing every single boundary. It can be exhausting to be them, exhausting to live with and challenging to parent them because fear kicks in and we want to protect them from everything.
- There will be times when they need to cling, when they need to talk and to feel safe – encourage that to happen and make time for it.
- Most will think that we, their parents, are old, boring and that we have never had a life. And they are not interested in the stories of our youth!
So how do parents cope with all this?
My experience has been a real struggle at times – it has caused tears, arguments, stress, unhappiness and several sleepless nights.
I have cried, I have drank, I have talked it through with my husband and my friends, I have ranted, I have written about it, I have over analysed it and I have taken it personally. What I have had to realise is that everything so far has been what I consider to be normal teenage behaviour and activities, a rite of passage I guess. While that doesn’t make it any less stressful to deal with it, it has made me realise that it is all pretty normal and, when I really thought about, what I had expected to deal with at some point.
Remember how tough life can be for a teenager as they work out who they are, their place in the world and what they want to be and do – I know I certainly wouldn’t want to revisit my teenage years!
Spend time with them, even if it is on their terms and there is a lot of acceptance to be had – where we were once the centre of their little universe, that is no longer true, and they need to venture out on their own more and more. We probably won’t always know everything they get up to, there will be secrets but I hope they know they can come to me if they are troubled and in need of support.
Their world can feel very different to yours but try to stay connected – life can be busy and some days it might just be about a cuddle and a smile or even a text.
Focus on the good stuff. I am incredibly proud of the feistiness and independence of my kids – even though it can be really hard to live with at times – of their kindness, of their abilities and passions and humour and I sometimes need to overlook the moods and the mess.
Get support when you need it
While it can be really tough at times, I love having teenagers – they can be really good company, they can make me so happy and proud, they can surprise me with their resilience and thoughtfulness and I love watching them grow into an adult. Although I wish mine would actually stop growing – I am the shortest person in the family now!
Janine – mum to two teenagers