Parenting Teens, some life-saving tips

by - Saturday, February 06, 2016

Offering parenting advice is not something I like to do generally because I think every family unit is completely different and what works for me isn't necessarily going to work for others.
However, I've been reading a lot of blogs lately about smaller children and I thought I might put together some ideas about older kids, based on my own experience.  I remember when my two were tiny thinking that everything would magically fall into place when they were older and I wouldn't have to worry about a thing!
I couldn't have been more wrong obviously :)

Trip to London, photo on the plane.
Happy Togetherness!

So here are some of my thoughts and tips, if you've been through the terrible teens already, you will know how it goes! If not, maybe this will reassure you that all the madness is totally normal.
I think the most difficult transition initially is making that adjustment from little cute pliable being to stroppy talking back sulky creature.  No matter what kind of personality your child has, this change will happen, sometimes overnight, sometimes over a period of time. Either way, it can come as a huge shock.
We're so used to a culture of parenting that dictates everything will be fine if we follow 'the rules'. Nothing could be further from the truth - once our kids hit the teenage years, they are starting to follow their own path and find their own way of being.  That halycon period where they looked up to us and behaved according to patterns laid down by us is eroding, and will soon be gone forever.
The very fact that we lose control can have a huge impact on family life, it can be scary and frustrating for parents to see their child transform before their eyes.
I think one of the worst things to do in this situation is to tighten the reins - this really is a time where you need to try and let go a little bit. It sounds easy but our first instinct when a child is 'misbehaving' is to put some controls or punishment in place and it really doesn't work a lot of the time with teens. They are struggling themselves with finding how they fit in the world and coping with all the huge pressures of changing bodies, social groups, school, etc.  What they need from us is to know we are there - this is often a need that doesn't come across very clearly as they push us away more often than not.
It's also hard to move away from the habit of offering unrealistic reassurance - the 'there, there, everything will be ok' approach is perfect for younger children, but older teens, especially, now know that we don't have all the answers and that we aren't privy to everything that's going on in their lives.

So offering blanket reassurance can seem patronising and false and make them turn away from us in frustration.  A better approach, I feel, is just to listen - and listen properly, not with a half ear. If you are lucky enough that your teen is confiding in you, then to hell with the housework or whatever else you're doing, just give them the time they need.


Izzy Reid, family day out
Family Outing, I'm here but I'm not liking it!

Which brings me to my next point. Lots of things that used to be lovely family outings are now anathema to teens and they spend (or mine do anyway!) lots of time in their rooms, plugged in to their music and in their own little world. I think that when this happened in our house first, I worried that something was wrong, that we weren't spending enough family time together, that I wasn't showing enough interest.  In actual fact, I think they just need this time to be themselves and do their own thing. Forcing outings or conversation doesn't really achieve anything and to be honest, I think this is definitely the time for parents to relax and find things that they want to do themselves (and maybe haven't been able to do up to now).
This doesn't mean that you are not paying attention, it's just a different kind of attention.
Often, little worries or anxieties can be relayed to us just when we're sitting in the car driving home or just as a throwaway comment.  That's why it's important to always have an ear open and be aware if they are struggling with something.
I think it's also important that we, as parents, express our own worries to some extent - not in the sense of burdening our kids with our woes but just to let them know that it's ok and normal to sometimes be anxious in certain situations.

Next up is parental expectation - I'm pretty sure this is something that we all have, it's hard not to! Even from the womb, we have a little unconscious plan mapped out for our darlings - whether it's a career in science, a prodigious musical ability or an artistic talent, we can't help but impose our own expectations on our kids. And we try to lead them in certain directions, through education or extra-curricular activities or outings or downright orders.
However, as Kahlil Gibran so beautifully put it, our children are not our own to mould, they are their own beings:

"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."


And whilst we might get away with trying to form them when they are little, the teen years will surely show how delusional we were :)

If they want to listen to death metal, get a piercing, express anarchic views, feel free to say that you don't necessarily like those things yourself but don't dismiss how they want to express themselves. Many many things that you might feel uncomfortable with are a short lived phase and showing horror or disapproval is only likely to make it last longer. 
Of course you can't condone anything that is actually dangerous or self harming but being open about things and discussing topics gives them the encouragement to make positive self-confident choices.

Siomha and Iseult Reid, Sisters
Sisters!


Finally, it's not all gloom and doom. You'll find that between the tantrums and outbursts and 'I hate you's' are gorgeous glimpses of the adult they will become and your heart will sing with joy that you have the privilege to have been there for their journey.



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12 comments

  1. Brilliant post. I will be keeping this at the back of my mind for when my little one is a teenager!

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  2. A great post that I will bear in mind in the future

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  3. Really enjoyed reading this. My kids are 8 and 10 and I am beginning to see some signs of the things to come.I particularly like the tip of giving them more space and independence, I'm at the stage where I am trying to start doing this, but its hard (and hubby finds it even harder!)

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  4. Such a good idea to talk about teenage years and some great advice. I've been through all of that with my three and yes, they are their own beings and not for us to mould. Mine are all different personalities, I rarely had any tantrums while they were teenagers (lucky for me) and they have all grown up independent and successful in their chosen fields.

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  5. I completely agree with you, they just want to spend some time chilling out and that dosen't always involve parents so it is good to find someone who understands that. Great food for thought!

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  6. As someone who is not a parent and closer to being a teenager I think giving teens space works but I was brought up differently so talking back or I hate yous never existed in my parents home if you were angry you did it in your time and respected your parents not matter what. Great post

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  7. Great post - as well as having a tot i have three teens! Communication, listening and trust are crucial, I find. Kaz x

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  8. Aww such a lovely post, I have a good number of years until I need to worry about the teenage ones, however I also know it will come round so quickly. Thank you for your advice :)

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  9. Oh my, I LOVE this. I am mum to four kids, eldest being 13, second one being 11...and I am still learning everyday something new. I like to try and create a 'comfortable' and open relationship where they can tell me anything, talk about anything and I try not to get angry in the usual way when they mess, if anything support them through their mistakes, talk about it, sometimes even with a cuddle and a cookie (you are never too big for cookies, even if it means leaving them on a plate by the xbox) shouting doesn't get you very far in life...I just hope I don't mess up and hope they do find their own way in life...it's all we can do :)

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    1. Thanks so much, being able to listen and let them talk is such a huge thing and you're so right, cookies are good at any age :)

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  10. Very thought provoking, my little man is nearly two so I'm a long way off this yet, so hard to imagine him as a teenager! Thanks for all the tips especially listening!

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  11. Having had a teenager too, dealing with small children is the easy bit in comparison. It is a really challenging time, but when everyone comes out of the other side, it really is worth it

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