There seems to be this expectation that once your kids become teenagers, they’ll hate your guts and you’ll find them as baffling as aliens who have moved into your house to eat all your food and play bad music at alarming decibel levels.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, and the way we parent can set the tone and lead the way for this relationship to either thrive or just survive.
Teenagers are naturally drawn to distance themselves from their parents. They are desperate to make their mark in the world as their own person rather than as an extension of you, but they also need a lot of love and good solid boundaries to know that they can explore the world with safety and confidence.
It’s up to you to provide what they need, without resorting to these behaviours, which are sure to drive your kids away from, rather than towards you.
- Not listening. You’ve had over a decade of telling your stories and sharing your opinion on all that life has to offer. Your kids know what you think about pretty much everything. As challenging as it is, it’s now time to listen to your teenager. Give them the chance to work through issues with you, without offering solutions. This is how they will learn to solve their own problems and have confidence in themselves.
- Conduct the Spanish Inquisition. Give your kids some privacy and trust that they know what they’re doing. Don’t grill them with questions about every little thing they’ve been doing. Show interest, certainly, but trust that if they have something to share, they will.
- Talking negatively about teenagers. We’ve all seen those parents who roll their eyes and make fun of their teens for their general teenager-ness. Yes, your teen may just answer you in grunts, their room may be a mess and their personal hygiene may be questionable, but generalising about insufferable teens is a sure-fire way to ensure your teen becomes one.
- Expecting instant compliance. If you asked anybody else to bring their bowl to the kitchen, you wouldn’t shout at them if they didn’t jump straight away. So why do it to your teen? Afford them the respect you would give anyone else, and let them finish the paragraph they’re reading/text they’re sending/game they’re playing.
- Not apologising. Some parents seem to think it weakens their position of authority to admit fault or apologise. But the opposite is true. Nobody is perfect and if you admit fault and apologise unreservedly, your teen is likely to accept and feel closer to you than if you just move on as if nothing has happened. Importantly, you’re also modelling good behaviour for them to follow themselves.
- Finding fault. Yes, your teen may need a haircut, their clothes might benefit from an iron, and they probably should use that acne-clearing face wash you bought them, but all you can do is offer solutions and let them make up their own minds. You can have expectations that everyone in the house brushes their teeth every day, for example, but singling anyone out to harp on about their flaws will only drive them further from you.
- Embarrassing them in public. Remember how embarrassing everything was when you were a teenager? You might think it’s over the top and funny now, but if you take a moment to remember what it feels like on the other side, you might tread more carefully. Having someone laugh about you and your flaws as if you weren’t in the room is disrespectful, so why would you treat your child that way? Teens are so incredibly vulnerable to criticism, and your parents are the ones who are supposed to love and support you. Don’t let them down.
- Picking the wrong battles. Keep an eye on the big picture. Is this an issue that will have an effect on the kind of adult your child becomes? If not, ask yourself if it’s worth the conflict. Try to say yes more often, and save no for when it really matters.
- Spying on them. There should always be a level of transparency with teens. For example, depending on your children’s ages, you may make it a rule that you have their email and social media passwords so you can help protect them. But going through your child’s belongings, reading their diary, or asking suspicious questions of them and their friends only breeds an environment of mistrust – which will cause your child to hide more from you, not less.
- Making them feel unimportant. Your child may ignore you when they’re online or when they have friends over, but you still need to be available to them. And when you’re with them, be fully present. That means putting your phone down and paying attention. Teens need to know you care, and this is an easy way to achieve that.
- Comparing your kids. Just because your son never got into trouble and always got the maths medal every year doesn’t mean your daughter will – or that she is a massive disappointment because of it. Every child brings different strengths and challenges to the table, and they should each be celebrated for who they are. And feeling like they are competing for your affection only drives a wedge between siblings that can take a lifetime to remove