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Parenting Teenagers: a beginner’s guide

Welcome to the parenting teenagers years! During this stage of parenting there will be no handy help from midwives, health visitors or mother and toddler groups. You won’t be swapping tips with other mums or dads at the school gate and no one is going to give you a ‘How To’ manual for Christmas. When it comes to parenting teenagers, you are on your own with only self-doubt and the internet to help…

So, in the spirit of comradeship, here are a few simple rules that I found out the hard way. Stick to these and – yes, it might still get messy and there will definitely be difficult moments but there’s a good chance you’ll come out the other side with a healthy relationship with your adult son/daughter and a smile on your face. Good luck! 

Rule 1: Stay calm

Easy to say – but not so easy to do when your teenager is behaving like a hormonal brat. Remember you are the grown up: don’t resort to sarcasm and don’t follow them into their bedroom to get the final word. Respond to teenage tantrums calmly and if they don’t calm down, just walk away. Take the dog for a walk, put the dinner on, lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to, but don’t engage in battle. There is no point rationalising with a torrential teen, you’ll both end up shouting or crying (or both). Save the talking until they have calmed down.

Need more? For a practical plan for staying calm, read: How do I cope with Teenage Tantrums?

Rule 2: Hand over the power

Parenting teenagers is all about power. You’ve got it and they want it. Somehow, that power has to be handed over – it’s the only way they will ever become responsible adults who make their own decisions and look after themselves. If you lag behind in handing over power, there will be conflict. Yes, be sure to set rules and teach problem-solving skills, and hand over the power in small doses so you can check if they are ready for it. But you will need to let them make their own decisions, even if that means making mistakes.

Not convinced? Read Parenting Teenagers without Conflict.

Rule 3: Remember they’re not adults

They look scarily like adults on the outside but, on the inside, teenagers still have a long way to go. Children’s brains undergo a major rewiring during their teenage years and parenting teenagers needs to take account of this brain development. Without a fully developed pre-frontal cortex to help them plan, stay on task, avoid distractions and inhibit the pleasure principle, you will need to help fill this void for them. Difficult teenagers do usually turn into lovely adults (just ask my mother!).

Want the geeky details on teenagers’ brains? Read: What’s going on in my teenager’s brain? or try these communication tips for keeping the communication channels open when teens clam up.

Rule 4: Enjoy the ups!

There are some real bonuses to parenting teenagers: the TV is much better for a start (no more repeat showings of the same Disney film again and again). You can go to the gym (or the pub) without arranging a babysitter, teens challenge your views and make you think, and they can sometimes be good company! Plus there is a chance they will actually remember the things you do for them (unlike toddlers).

Can’t see the upsides for the downs? Try this: Six reasons to love their teenage years.

Rule 5: Don’t over-complicate it

You will never really know if you are getting it right. Parenting teenagers is a series of daily judgement calls that only you can make. Some of them you will get right and some you will get wrong. Don’t aim to be perfect – you will fail. Good enough is good enough (and all teenagers need a modicum of parent-induced angst to be interesting to their peers!). Feed them, help them fit in, offer advice but don’t impose it. And accept that their friends are now more important to them than you are – that’s ok.

Still unsure? Try this 10-point recipe for How to be a good mother to a teenager (written by a teenager!) or check out these advice websites for parenting teenagers.

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The Work/Parent Switch.

By Anita Cleare

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Practical tips on how to be the parent your child needs and create happy family dynamics (but still do your job!)

4 responses to “Parenting Teenagers: a beginner’s guide”

  1. Julie says:

    Interesting point about handing over the power. True that they need to learn to be responsible and independent, but it has to be difficult to find that balance.

    • AnitaCleare says:

      You’re absolutely right. I think that’s the trickiest part of parenting a teenager – getting the pace right so that you hand over responsibility in doses they can handle.

  2. Geri Briggs says:

    A great piece but would also have 6. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s so important to know which battles to fight and which to walk away from – you will never agree on many things with your teen but try to only put a firm line in the sand when absolutely necessary for safety’s sake or you just create more things to argue about (e.g. having a tidy bedroom, what they wear)

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