Parenting a teenager requires a brand new set of skills. Those tricks that served you well in the early years won’t cut it now your child has a full vocabulary and her own set of house keys (with the possible exception of bribery). The good news is that these skills are easily learned.
Here are five common traps when you’re parenting a teen, and some handy hints to avoid them:
1. Treating them like they’re still a child.
After infancy, the teenage years are the second most risky developmental period in your child’s life. Once puberty gains momentum, dramatic growth spurts and rapid cognitive development kick in alongside significant changes in their social environment, such as transition to high school. Emotions are heightened in the teenage years and risk taking behaviours increase.
Your job is to provide your teenager with age-appropriate opportunities to develop and grow, push up against boundaries, try things, fail and get back up again. In other words, let go a little. Invest some trust in your teenager and give him the opportunity to do the right thing. Get comfortable with handing over the kitchen and eating a possibly inedible meal. Let them fail to study for the maths test and face the consequences – it’s all part of the critical learning experiences needed to set your child up for adulthood.
2. “Checking out” because they’re already an adult.
Don’t let go too much, though. Around the time your child turns 15, you will likely have experienced that one friend who is always around but you have never met their parents. Or the teenager who you know, thanks to your child’s enthusiastic telling of anecdotes, is allowed to do anything they like.
The thing to remember is that teenagers will often look physically ready for anything, but their brains are not fully developed until well into their twenties. “Setting boundaries and limits” sounds like the most boring piece of clichéd advice, but it’s the key to good parenting in these years. They help your teenager to remain safe while they are still a “work in progress”.
3. Engaging in technology wars.
The parent who hasn’t engaged in conflict with their teenager about technology use is either the rarest species on earth or one of those parents who will proudly tell anyone who is listening that they don’t allow their teenager to use technology. But technology is here to stay, and young people are going to use it – if not now, later. Teens don’t think of the world as either being online or offline.
Being online allows them to understand how to negotiate risks, offer support to friends and be a good digital citizen. It’s all one big, global, social world, and denying them the opportunity to become proficient with technology means they miss out on the positive creative, social and informative aspects of its use.
Make sure they know about online safety and check in with them every now and again just to make certain they remember (see www.esafety.gov.au for further information). Turn off the Wi-Fi at night and encourage them to get outside regularly. Negotiate clear rules about technology use and the consequences for not following them, write them down, date and sign the rules and leave them to it.
4. Being their best friend.
Let’s face it, it’s hard setting all those boundaries and rules and looking at your teen’s surly face before they slam the bedroom door in your face. There are times when it’s so much less effort to take the easy road. But while it seems counterintuitive, your teenager may feel resentful towards you later in life for not setting limits or taking control.
They need a hand at this age to regulate their behaviours and persist when things get tough. Becoming your teenager’s “best friend” and failing to set boundaries means that it will be incredibly difficult to rein things back in if needed. How confusing is it if you fluctuate between being a best friend and a parent? And lets face it; no 14-year-old really wants a 45-year-old friend.
5. Buying in to the negative vibe.
I don’t remember speaking to one parent when my child was entering the teenage years who felt positively about what was to come. Teenagers need to feel safe, valued and listened to, like all children. The world is confusing, challenging and confronting when you are first making your way as an independent person. Yet teens are the most maligned and mistrusted age group around, thanks to a poor public profile and predominantly negative media representation.
As parents, we can help to bring out the best in our teenagers and encourage other parents to take a more positive view. Most teenagers are smart, funny, driven and engaging, and have some great fresh perspectives on life. We just need to be positive, catch them when they are good, and give them the opportunity to be their best.
Surviving Adolescents 2.0 by Michael Carr-Gregg and Elly Robinson, published by Penguin Life, is available from all good bookstores for RRP $22.99.