I’m by no means an expert on raising teenagers. I still make quite considerable sized boo-boos on a daily basis but I’m learning. These are just a few things I’ve discovered (mostly by accident) that I wish I’d been told about earlier….
- Pick your battles wisely. Your teen will go head to head with you on various topics multiple times a day. These battles can range anywhere from the daily moans and groans of ‘I want to stay out later’ ‘I don’t want to go to school’ and ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead wearing THAT.’ to the more rebellious, challenging battles that would test the patience of a saint. In the dark underworld of teen parenting, the smallest of things can trigger the biggest of battles. I’ve found the hard way that unless you want to spend every waking minute in a to-do with your teen, you need to be selective in the battles you entertain and the ones you let go as sometimes it just isn’t worth it. If your teen is anything like mine, they have the stamina of a cheetah on steroids when it comes to arguing so it would be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting to try and keep up with them. Let certain things go – ask yourself ‘is it worth it?’ and if the answer is ‘no’, let it go. Rise above it. It feels unnatural at first to turn the other cheek when your child is saying or doing something you don’t agree with; after all, you’ve spent thirteen odd years teaching them to respect you, listen to you and do as you say. Believe me though, some things just aren’t worth it. Maintaining a positive atmosphere at home and within the family, for me anyway, has always been more important, particularly when you have younger siblings around. Door slamming and ranting and raving doesn’t make for a very harmonious house!
- Loosen your hold of their reins. I don’t say this lightly because this is something that I continue to struggle with. Parenting is about keeping your child safe, supervising them, being there with them to ensure their safety so it’s only natural that as they grow up, as parents we find it difficult to let them go. But this is an essential part of growing up that all teens need to go through. They need to be given the space to experience independence in the real world and the freedom to go out there and make mistakes, learn lessons and develop valuable life skills. If you don’t allow them that freedom, the chances are that, they will rebel against you and take that freedom against your consent and then it is done in an uncontrolled way. Nobody gets given an instruction manual for raising teens so when it comes to making decisions about at what stage or age to give your teen that freedom, you need to do what feels right for you and your child. Build that freedom gradually, nobody expects you to allow your child to walk the streets for three days. Start with allowing them out for an hour or two and build it up gradually, adding in new dimensions like allowing them to travel by public transport, allowing them to visit places like the cinema independently. I have an arrangement with my teen that he texts me whenever he arrives or leaves a new place so that if I ever needed to track his movements, I could. For example he visits his friends via a short train journey so he texts me when he reaches the train station, again when he is on the train, again when he gets off the train and again when he meets his friends. Some may think this is a little OTT (and maybe it is!) but this is the strategy I needed to use in order for me to feel reassured that he was as safe as I could possibly make him when out on his own.
- You need to let them be them. When raising a younger child, as a parent you have control over almost every aspect of their life: which school they go to, the friendships you encourage through invitations to play-dates, what they wear, the media they are exposed to and the hobbies they enjoy. As they get older, we have to relinquish that control a little bit at a time so that they can find themselves, further develop who they are as a person, their likes, their dislikes, their opinions and their interests. Sometimes, as a parent, this can feel like a bad thing. You feel like you are losing that control. Suddenly you are faced with your son or daughter who may be developing their own point of view, disagreeing with the belief system you have raised them with, taking on character traits that you don’t recognise. It’s difficult. But necessary. And, you know, once you go with it, it brings a whole new dimension to your family, and moreover, to your relationship with your teen. I love that my son and I have opposing views on some subjects, it makes for stimulating conversation and we have some very healthy debates over the dinner table!
- When they say they hate you, they don’t actually hate you. There are a whole range of sayings you can regularly hear from my teen when things don’t go his way. These range from the old ‘You’ve ruined my life’ chestnut to ‘You don’t get it’ ‘You know nothing’ ‘I hate you’. These sayings are usually accompanied by thunderous footsteps up the stairs and an almighty door slam. After a couple of years of it, I have developed a thicker skin but I found it hard not to take it personally in the beginning. The one thing to remember throughout any spat with your teen is that it is temporary. Your teen will calm down. They will come back downstairs with their tail between their legs (usually when they are hungry) and they will apologise (be prepared for this to be a non-verbal apology as saying the word ‘sorry’ seems to be a bit of a challenge for teenagers in my experience!). When my teen’s sorry he usually creeps in with those big doughy eyes, gives me a cuddle and a kiss on the cheek and then resumes usual service with a ‘what’s for tea?’ type question. Go easy on them. Hormones do make them go a bit crazy. They are a child trying to find their place in an adult world. It can be tough on them too sometimes.
- You need to involve them in everything you do as a family. As much as your teen enjoys spending fifteen hours a day on their games console competing against a middle aged man in a string vest suffering a midlife crisis on another continent, it is good for them to get out and enjoy family life. They may protest, they may put up a fight. They may well roll their eyes at the thought of a family picnic in the park but I guarantee that once you get them away from their games console / youtube videos / snapchat, they will enjoy it. Even though they are becoming more and more independent at the speed of light, they still need to feel that they have a place within the family. They may not volunteer to go on family days out but with a little gentle persuasion, they will come, offering you opportunities to make more memories as a family. As you slowly start to recognise that your teen is rapidly growing into an adult, it is those precious memories that you will treasure.