The surly teenager
The teen years are unique — teens are no longer children, yet they are not adults either. While teens make many more decisions themselves, they still need their parents to guide and advise them. Often, of course, this advice is totally ignored or even worse, derided, yet parents still play a major role in shaping their teens’ future.
Practical tips for parenting teens
Pick your fights: If you react to every sigh and comment, you might find yourself sucked into a cycle of negative behaviours that can be difficult to find your way out of. You feel hurt by your teen and his comments and feel that you can’t let him away with such rude behaviour. Naturally, you have to set some firm ground rules and you need to be clear with your teen on what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. There are many small behaviours, comments, gestures, etc, that may be very annoying. However in the long run, it is better to decide on what to fight about and not be sensitive about every little thing.
Set clear ground rules: As with all stages of development you will need to have clear boundaries and limits in terms of acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour. These will be unique to your family and will reflect your own values. It is important that these still apply to your teen. As with the younger child, they do not have to be extensive but some clear and agreed rules are important. Involve your teen in deciding what these rules are — by including him in this discussion, it means firstly that he will be aware of them and secondly he is more likely to make an effort to respect them.
Communication: This is important throughout your child’s life. Open, easy, communication is a sign of a healthy relationship and is something all parents should strive towards. At times things may be strained with your teen, but in general, if you have opportunities to spend relaxed time together this will help you overcome the stressful times.
Don’t take things personally: Easier said than done sometimes, as your child will know exactly the type of comment that makes you upset, eg, “you’re old fashioned and completely out of touch”, etc. The reason he might use this comment is because it gets such a good reaction! Teenagers can be affectionate one minute and surly the next. You should treasure the good times and offset them against the bad times. Even when your teen is in a temper and saying horrible things to you, remind yourself that he doesn’t mean it and don’t rise to the bait. If he is saying things that you feel are mean and vindictive, try not to respond in a similar manner. You may need to take some time out of the situation before giving a reasoned, considered response. While there may be serious issues you need to deal with, trying to do this when you are upset and hurt is not a good idea.
Give them space: Teens need time alone and with their friends. While you may want him to join in more with the family, you have to respect his need for space. This can be particularly difficult on younger brothers and sisters who are finding that their older sibling is ignoring them and not spending time with them. Your role is to try to find the balance between all your children’s needs. You won’t get it right all the time but do accept your older child’s emerging need for more privacy and time away from the family.
Humour: A sense of humour is a great asset in our role as parents. Many of us take this job as parents very seriously and think we have to get everything right. Of course the reality of life is that we will inevitably make mistakes and we will find ourselves in situations that are far from our ideal. Accepting and finding the humour in these situations makes them bearable and even fun. The years of childhood are limited and before we know it our children will be adults. If we spend this time striving for the ideal and not actually experiencing the ups and downs of parenting, we lose out on such a rich experience. This applies to the teen years as well — if you find yourself continually bickering with your child, you are losing out on opportunities to spend some precious time with him. If you keep the atmosphere light and good-humoured, it will help with a lot of situations.
Support from other parents: Remember other parents are always a source of great help and support. You are not the first parent who has a teen who answers back and is rude, and you won’t be the last. Don’t underestimate the support you can receive from other parents when dealing with teen behaviours. Talking with other parents who are experiencing similar challenges really does make a big difference.
For more information visit www.RollerCoaster.ie, Ireland’s no 1 website for pregnancy and parenting.