10 MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN PARENTING TEENAGERS
By Kerry Dolan
Parenting teenagers is hard. Sorry, there’s little I can do to sugar coat it, for me it’s been one of the most challenging experiences of my life so far.
If you think that nappy changing and sleepless nights were difficult you need to prepare yourself for the teenage years ahead.
Babies are a doddle compared to the moody, monosyllabic creatures who begin their transformation shortly after the twelfth birthday mark.
Nobody is perfect. I’m a Mum to three unpredictable, spotty teens and I would’ve happily paid good money for a cheat sheet or guidebook on how to handle the little monsters. It’s not easy sitting back and watching your perfect little baby morph into a volatile mini adult.
I’m the first to admit I’ve made a few mistakes. Hand on heart I’m sure that every parent feels the same way about their child growing into adulthood. It comes with a new list of challenges we haven’t had to tackle before – homework, time restrictions, new friends who freak you out a tiny bit and dare I say it, dating. It’s enough to turn anyone grey just thinking about it.
We tend to use the same parenting style that we have always used, when the kids were small this was fine but as they reach adolescence, we need to adapt it slightly. How we do this is a complete learning curve, which I’m still navigating.
Trust your instincts. Teenagers will test your boundaries and your patience but ultimately, we mustn’t forget they are still our children and they need our guidance and support.
I sought the help of a professional Relate counsellor, Barbara Bloomfield to help me write this article so that other parents will see that the teen years needn’t be the stress inducing ordeal it’s made out to be.
Bypass the Bad Press
Teenagers are notoriously given a bad press. In reality, they’re full of energy and brimming with new ideas but they’re often suppressed by society. Barbara says: “Teens can be impulsive as their brains are not yet fully developed. This means they can do things without fully understanding the consequences.”
Don’t be too quick to quash their enthusiasm, even if it’s something you don’t agree with. Let them have their opinions, and instead of trying to lecture them on why opening an internet café in the middle of a desert is a stupid idea, chat to them about why it’s not a good idea and try to steer their energy towards something that is.
2. Don’t sit back and let them fend for themselves
We are encouraged from an early age to let our kids have their own independence but don’t think for a minute that a teenager doesn’t need your valuable support and advice. Give them positive messages and try to be involved with their interests and hobbies, even if you don’t totally understand what they’re about.
I’m not saying you need to don a baseball cap and start rapping, but short chats over a bite to eat about what they’re into can make a real difference. I was totally out of the loop with my son’s console games and my daughter’s Instagram account. I felt infuriated they devoted so much of their time to a screen. But seeing them in action was awe-inspiring, and dare I say it, an art that I found quite interesting.
3. Don’t read too much advice
Often situations can call for your own common sense. Can I stay out until 2am? No. Can I drink at the party even though it’s at so-and-so’s house and their parents are there? No, you’re only 14.
Some parents might not agree with my methods, and some will. I haven’t taken my guidelines from a parenting bible, based on my own experiences I decided that I don’t want my child out too late or drinking alcohol at 14.
We know it does go on elsewhere but we don’t have to agree to it, and neither should we feel pressured into a decision because another parent has agreed to it. Using parenting guides isn’t a bad thing, but following them to the letter can be difficult if they don’t match your child’s character, which can make you more anxious about doing the right thing.
Try to reach out to other parents as you may find that they too are feeling confused about making the right decisions.
4. Not Looking at the Big Picture
If it’s not actually putting your child at risk, is it really so bad?
It’s all too easy to get upset and angry over your teens’ appearance, or their inability to listen to you but before you start getting irritated by their annoying habits – my son’s bedroom drove me to distraction despite repeated and polite requests to keep it tidy – remember that they are still learning.
We learn from our mistakes. I openly admit feeling a tad guilty reprimanding my own kids, remembering how my own mother used to moan about the clothes all over my bedroom floor.
Likewise, always being on their back about school work / good grades / homework is likely to have the opposite effect on them. Parents often get fixated on protecting our kids from the realities of life, but shielding them can take away some valuable learning opportunities.
5. Too Much or Too Little Discipline
“Routines and structures are usually helpful as they provide a safe container that the young person can (gently) kick against.” advises Barbara. Some parents think discipline is imperative whereas others ignore setting boundaries for fear of alienating what little relationship is left. Find a balance.
There is no right or wrong answer to how much discipline you should set your teen. Try to resist making decisions for them, but talk to them about making their own choices and why they are good or bad. More often than not, kids that are bought up in too rigid an environment can encourage rebellious behaviour.
6. Ignoring Warning Signs
It’s easy to brush things under the carpet when you don’t really know how to deal with the situation properly, but if your parental instinct is telling you something isn’t quite right you must act.
Teenagers are just as vulnerable as adults to suffer from mental health issues. If you suspect your teenager has a problem, Barbara offers this advice: “Firstly, try not to panic. We all have mental health issues from time to time and our culture is becoming more relaxed and understanding about this. Try to talk to your teen about trusted sources of help that are available online.
They can also get psychological help online and in person via the local CAMHS (Child and Mental Health Service), which is available on the NHS for those under 18 and their families. If they are at school, the school counsellor should be able to help.”
7. Don’t overlook the use of alcohol or drugs
Remembering your own teen years can bring back fond and comical memories. However, just because you remember drinking cider at that age doesn’t make it acceptable for your underage teen to go out on a drinking spree, or worse.
Problems with alcohol or drugs, even household medicines like paracetamol can quickly spiral out of control. Keep a watchful eye out for any changes in their behaviour or their school attendance, which could signal something more serious is going on.
Make a mental note of medicine cupboard ingredients or anything going missing from home and seek professional help if needed. I asked Barbara what parents should do if they suspect their teen has drugs or alcohol issues.
“Talk to your teen about the subject in a calm way, ask questions, and show an interest in their answers. If, in your anxiety, you come across as very angry, this could make things worse. It can be hard to talk to teens about these things and you might find they are willing to talk to someone else they trust, such as a teacher or school counsellor. You may need to be proactive in setting this up, and be firm with your teenager about getting help with their behaviour.”
8. Avoiding Family Time
It’s easy to lose touch of what is going on in your teenager’s life when you are busy at work and they’re tucked away in their rooms.
If it’s too difficult to come together over a family meal, try to schedule regular family meetings so that you can all keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the household. Encourage everyone to put down their phone and have a 10-minute chat.
I use a calendar app shared across the family so that everyone knows where everyone else is, this can also lead to conversations – even if it’s between siblings about which party they are going to at the weekend.
Keeping the conversation up between you and your teen will strengthen your bond and hopefully they won’t feel awkward coming to you if they do encounter a problem.
9. Not Letting Go
It’s hard to accept that your baby is all grown up. Once upon a time, they’d run to you for hugs and sit on your knee for a story, now all they can manage is a monosyllabic grunt as they waft past.
You might prefer to wrap your daughter up in cotton wool rather than let her out of the house in a tiny tank top but hankering after the good old days is just torturing yourself.
Accepting that your child is growing up might be tough, but helping them through this process is your new role and you must embrace it.
“Think back to how your parents or guardians handled you when you were a teenager. Was their style helpful or not so helpful? Many ‘protective’ parents have historic reasons why they find it hard to let go. If you talk to your teenager about this, you might find they are quite understanding and are willing to listen.” Barbara says.
10. Forgetting What it’s Like to be a teenager yourself
It’s easy to forget what life was like when you were a carefree, happy-go-lucky teenager. What we must remember is that our teens do not act badly or irresponsibly just to annoy us. “Think back to your own experiences and use these as a basis to consider what will and won’t be useful for your teenager. Consider expert help from organisations like Relate if you have been able to sort out a problem.”
“There are many sources of help, from your health visitor, your GP, parenting programmes and charities like Relate, places that can offer quiet time out with expert help to think through parenting problems.”
Whilst adolescents are a peculiar breed, you too were once part of that eye-rolling, argumentative, iPhone addicted cliché.
Do stuff with them. Be their friend and enjoy yourself. Take the day off to ride rollercoasters or muck around at the arcades with them. Even the moodiest teen can be persuaded with food – take them for a bite to eat or to the cinema. Better still, ask them to suggest what type of activity they would like to do with you.
Your influence is far deeper than you realise. Giving them your time and a listening ear is far more important than any cash purchase, and although they may not thank you for it right away, they will hopefully grow into the respectful and thoughtful adults you want them to be.
With thanks to Relate Counsellor, Barbara Bloomfield.