As parents it’s sometimes difficult to know where you stand with your growing and maturing teenager. As a young child they looked up to you for everything, but now they want you to drop them off at the end of the road so you won’t embarrass them in front of their friends and to not dress like that in public! But they still need love and support and someone to listen to them, guide them and gently nudge them in the right direction.
As Mark Twain once said,” When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”
As your child grows up, your relationship changes and this is often the hardest part for parents to handle. But if you relax, accept the changes as part of the natural rhythm and flow of life, and embrace them, life with your maturing teenager is much easier for them as well as for you.
How it used to be.
As a parent, you used to be a very powerful, influential figure. You knew everything about your child’s life, what they ate, how much they slept, who their friends were and you told them what to do and they listened to you wide-eyed and believed it all. You made the decisions about their life and if you insisted that something should be done, it got done. You knew what was best for your child and they accepted that without question.
How it is now
With a teenager, things are totally different! They used to turn to you for help and advice, now it’s the opinion of their friends that matters most to them, which can be a painful experience for you and a worry. Once you knew everything, now you know nothing about anything important, like music, fashion, films, celebrity gossip, relationships and friendships.
It’s all about discovering for themselves what they believe in – what their values are in life and what’s important to them and in working them out the first place they start is in rejecting your values, beliefs and principles.
It’s a natural part of growing up that they are sceptical, questioning and challenging of your authority, your values and your principles as they are exploring their own views of the world.
I think it helps to remember that there really isn’t that much of a difference between handling a toddler and a teenager.
Teenagers and toddlers are similar in that they both want to be more independent, want to assert themselves and be individual, have more control about what happens to them, yet they both lack the maturity and experience to understand all the potential dangers and risks around them and also both feel confused around their emotional and physical changes and are both likely to throw a tantrum if they don’t get what they want!
So it’s very helpful to change the picture you have in your head of your teenager. See them as just a taller toddler and notice how immediately you feel different towards them.
It’s about negotiating, and navigating your teenager through these years not telling, demanding and nagging. It’s about your style of parenting changing.
Start to look at your teenager as actually no different from a toddler and you’ll start to relax around this whole issue and things will start to improve.
Where it’s going
Good parents work themselves out of a job as it’s about allowing your child to find their way in the world and to cope with life away from you independently and confidently. It’s about allowing them to make mistakes, and to learn from them. It’s also about being there to pick them up when they fall.
It’s about you allowing your little one who was totally dependent on you when they were young and encouraging them to transform into a competent, resilient, capable adult who can manage their own life. This process involves you stepping back as your maturing teenager takes on more and more control of their own life. It’s like letting go of the bike while they ride off without their stabilisers.
Despite the bravado and the mantra ‘It’s my life’, your teenager still needs your support, your understanding, and finally their independence and freedom.
Remember, underneath the clothes, the mascara, the hair gel or the tattoo or whatever it is you don’t like, they are still the same person. They may talk a lot about how you don’t understand but they are still making the transition into adulthood, and they still want your help and guidance on the way.
But it’s about how you give it!
Teenagers struggle with their sense of identity and what other people think about them is really important as they are very self conscious.
They worry a great deal about their friendships, their appearance, their popularity, and their place in the world. They may lack confidence, or be afraid of speaking up for themselves in a group and because friends are so important they fear rejection or criticism by their peer group. So they often suffer uncertainty and lack of self-worth. At the same time, they are put under increasing pressure to succeed academically at school and at college.
Your teenager needs you to trust them, believe in them and support them no matter what. They need to know you are there for them unconditionally when they need you.
Someone To Listen
The one key skill a parent of a teenager needs above all others is the ability to listen. I think we have one mouth and two ears for a reason!
So one very practical skill to develop is the ability to listen twice as much as you speak and try to understand the situation from your teenager’s point of view. Step into their shoes and socks and see the world from their perspective.
One simple technique I use with the parents I work with is to step on to a piece of paper on the floor with your teenager’s name on it and to see what they see , hear what they hear and feel how they feel from their teenager’s point of view and perspective of family life and the world.
It is often very illuminating and helpful as it shifts stuck scenarios and points of view.
This doesn’t mean you will agree with or accept everything your teenager says. You will still have your own viewpoint, but by listening you show a willingness to try to understand. This builds faith, trust and bridges between you.
I think it’s useful to remember that respect is the key energy of any successful and happy family so build in the “Listen to me and I’ll listen to you” mentality and watch your family relationships flourish and grow.
So what do you do if your teenager seems likely to make a decision you don’t like?
The important thing to do immediately is to take a three deep breathes, press your imaginary pause button like on your DVD player and ask yourself an empowering question that helps you step back from the situation and able to look at the bigger picture.
Don’t give uninvited advice, don’t launch into a huge criticism of their choice, don’t lecture or don’t get overtly bossy.
Ask yourself straight away,” Is this a battle worth fighting?” “Is this important?”
If it’s not an important decision, then you will get enormous credit and bonus points for listening and accepting your teenager’s right to make up their own mind. This will stand you in good stead when a really important decision is ready for discussion that you won’t compromise on.
The fact that you listen to your teenager regularly will encourage them to respect you, and to be more open to accepting your advice when it is given because you have built that mentality and ethos in your home over time.
• What small changes could I take this week towards building the bridges of trust and respect within our family?
• What do I need to do to get more balance into our relationship?
• What could I do this week to spend some more relaxed free time with my teenager?
• How can I remember to ask myself more empowering questions and to step back more often?
• How can I relax and enjoy this time of transition more?