The teen years are notoriously the most difficult to parent for good reason, they’re challenging. It’s almost like having a toddler again except they drive cars, party, have sex and rarely listen to anything you say. Okay, so they’re not exactly like toddlers, but they are both challenging age groups as they are both transitional ages:
- Toddlers are turning from babies to children and finding their voices.
- Teens are turning from children to teens plus they have that added bonus of raging hormones.
Did I breeze through my kids’ teen years? Pretty much. Had the odd “attitude” issues but they were few and far between. My kids didn’t really have a chance with me though as I’d had so much practice mentoring troubled teens beforehand. Practice doesn’t make perfect but it sure helps.
The parents I talk to who are the most upset are the ones with teenagers. They’re not just disappointed in how their sons and daughters are acting, but they’re scared. They’re scared for their teens’ safety, welfare and scared of losing them forever. They’re also scared that they messed them up.
I’ve coached families through some of the worst problems you could imagine and some who just want help with the basic stuff. The one thing all these parents have in common is their lack of empathy for what their teenagers are going through.They seem completely oblivious to all the changes, social pressures and urges their teens are dealing with which is odd considering they’ve done it themselves.
Basically being a teenager is emotional, painful, fun, confusing, conflicting, frustrating, etc., etc. You’re stuck between 2 worlds: Childhood & Adulthood. You tend to act like an adult when out in the world with strangers yet go home and have a tantrum with your parents because they treat you like a child. So you act like one.
So as a parent it makes sense to shift the way you treat them BEFORE they act out. In other words, hold them to a higher standard of behaviour now that they’re teenagers than you did when they were children.
This teenage transition happens anywhere between 12-14 for girls and 14-16 for boys. That’s a generalization but has been my observation. It happens when the hormones hit.
I’ve studied the effects of hormones on the brain and just found it more confusing than clarifying. But basically hormones are crazy drugs. They cause mood swings, rage, sexual desire, lack of foresight, etc., etc.
Okay, so that’s what’s going on with teenagers but how do you parent them you’re asking? This is where it gets kinda vague and confusing as they’re all so different. You have to know when to go in with advice and when to back off and give them space. That’s why I don’t have a “4 Week Parenting Program” for Teenagers. They’re all so different.
But here are some very basic rules for parenting teenagers. First of all I’ll list what NOT to do:
- don’t lecture
- don’t set curfews
- don’t yell
- don’t roll your eyes
- don’t expect too much from them
- don’t react to their outbursts
- don’t stick around for a battle
- don’t tell them what they need, want or should do
- don’t expect respect unless you give it … and even then … as above, don’t expect too much
- don’t EVER look disappointed in them … EVER!!!
Here are some do’s:
- do listen
- do stay calm
- do offer options (sort of like advice but a bit milder, like a multiple choice)
- do negotiate rules
- do praise often
- do forgive their mistakes
- do show your pride in them (find something to be proud of no matter how they’re acting)
I’ve worked with so many families going through horrible stuff and the biggest battle is always convincing the parents to let go of what their teenagers have done wrong. They absolutely have to give their teenagers a fresh start. That doesn’t mean their teens aren’t expected to be accountable and have repercussions for their mistakes. But you have to treat them as if they’re good, kind, wonderful people so they have something positive to live up to. If you treat them as if their rotten troubled teens then that’s what they’ll be. I guarantee you that.
You are so much more important in your teen’s life than you can imagine. That’s great news as it means you have more influence than you realize. Teens who have parents they respect and who respect them don’t go astray.
Be your teen’s safe place to land. If you are calm, strong, loving and always a great listener, I guarantee you will have more influence over your teen’s choices than you ever thought possible.
Forget about give & take, being right, and fairness. Toss out all those expectations and your life with your teenager will be so much easier.
Don’t worry, one day they’ll have self-absorbed teenagers of their own and you can just sit back and watch the show with a smile on your face :).
– Lisa Bunnage
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