'Don't take it personally.' How to look after ourselves when teenagers are... a lot.

Parenting teens is tough, right?  

If you are reaching for 'Doctor Google' or a Chardonnay in desperation, you are not alone. As a parent myself, I know how hard it can be - especially if your teen communicates only in eye rolls and grunts! 

So how do we stay okay in ourselves when we are parenting teens? 

We often hear about the importance of self-care but taking care of yourself (and each other) as parents sounds a lot simpler than it is in practice. As a parent of teens, self-care is usually way down the priority list: after picking up dog poo and before Christmas shopping.

I usually suggest parents start by looking at all your demands (work, household, relationships) and your resources (support systems, recharging time, mental coping tool-kit). 

If you are feeling stressed out, like many parents of teens are, some rebalancing is in order.

Reducing demands can be tricky, but some practical problem-solving - such as sharing teen-taxi duties with other parents, putting other family members onto the household duties roster or saying no to some things outside the home - might work. Increasing your resources is sometimes easier, but it still needs to move up the priority list.

At least put it before picking up dog poo - or better still, roster someone else on poo-pickup duty!

Watch: Things that parents of teens just get. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

As parents, we are hard-wired in our brains to escape the likes of sabre-toothed cats. We are not programmed to stay calm when our teen comes home drunk from a party, or they’re panicking about their English speech, or they tell you that you’re ruining their life. All of these things tend to bring out our stress survival mode, but as parents, we need to find ways to manually override this so we can stay calm enough to parent our teens.

The reality is that most parents bring some baggage from their own childhood. This is sometimes called having 'ghosts in the nursery'. These ghosts are people or relationships or events from our own childhoods that have become hard-wired in our brains.

They pop out when we are under stress and in an emotional state, causing unwanted patterns of behaviour (like yelling, slamming doors, saying mean things or ignoring) that we might have experienced ourselves when we were young. 

Often just being aware of our childhood ghosts and taking good care of ourselves is enough, but sometimes talk therapy is needed, especially if you have had a lot of tough stuff growing up.

Below are some of the important ideas that helped get me through parenting teens:

• I only need to be good enough.

• I need to forgive myself when things go wrong - I can repair things.


• I know that parenting is messy and the reality is different from the ideal.

• It's important that I accept what I can't change and focus on what I can change.

• I can change how I personally respond to things.

• It's easier to work on myself than to change other people.

• I can't take it personally when a distressed teen says mean things.

• My teen's brain is still rewiring. I can't expect them to be an adult.

• A problem shared is a problem halved. I need to reach out to my support networks.

• Remember to notice and be grateful for any positives, no matter how small.


Our minds and bodies are linked by our nervous system, so we need to care for both to be okay in ourselves. We need to keep our own 'power source' charged and notice which things recharge us, like exercise for some people, and which things drain us, like exercise for some people!

As well as modelling helpful habits, things are likely to go better for your teen if your stress levels are okay. 

If you know that your mental health is suffering, reach out for help. Talk to a friend or family member, join a support group or see a doctor or mental health worker.

It’s not easy being a parent in a world of TikTok and bubblegum-flavoured vapes, but making small changes to reduce your stress levels can make a big difference to both you and your teen.

Dr Jo Prendergast is a psychiatrist, parent, comedian and author of the new book When Life Sucks: Parenting your teen through tough times (HarperCollins, $34.99), which gives you the practical tools to help make your life a little lighter and to support your teen towards a healthy headspace. Catch Jo's award-winning comedy show The Cool Mum in Sydney, Melbourne & Brisbane - details at joghastly.com.

Feature Image: Getty. 

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