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!).
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.
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