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Raising a 21st Century Teenager

Posted on 13 July 2012

Nobody has all the right answers when it comes to bringing up kids, let alone teenagers.   As parents, we feel the pressure to turn out perfect children and be perfect parents – no such thing! 

Parents of teenagers often feel:

  • Worried that they don’t know what to do about teenager behaviour 
  • Lack confidence that they’re doing anything right 
  • Sad that their child doesn’t seem to need them unless they want money or food 
  • Unsure where to start to make changes as a parent 
  • Envious of their teens’ youth and vitality 
  • Aware of their own mortality as they reach their own mid life and all that entails

As a parent of a teenager, do you relate to any of these or is there something else that has come your way that gives you sleepless nights?

“I’ve been a parent for years, surely I should know what I’m doing by now?”

In the first ten years, it all seems relatively straightforward turning out charming biddable children compared to when they reach 11 + 

What happened to that enthusiastic chatterbox who would let you plait her hair or read them a story?  Who is this moody spotty grunter you’re living with now who is glued to a screen of some kind 24/7?

Managing challenging behaviour has gone from giving a stern word to screaming arguments.  Parents can feel bewildered, unsure and sometimes really worried about what to do and how to cope in these turbulent years.  But it’s not all bad.  There are many great aspects to having teenagers under your roof.  Shoe swaps, someone to have a laugh with, share an interest with, or simply watching them become their own person are some of the joys of parenting. 

What do you enjoy about your teenager or one you know?  Find a way to tell them.  Teenagers are often given such bad press, and it can be hard to compliment someone who seems to be perennially rude to you, but the behaviour the parent comments on is more likely to be repeated, so it’s worth commenting on anything at all that is OK.  Tricky – it’s so much easier to point out their faults, but they need a good model, not a critic if they’re to navigate their way through adolescence.

Being a teenager today puts huge pressure on young people. It is different and similar to previous generations.  The main difference is access to technology and parents say their teens are way ahead of them when it comes to Facebook, Twitter, mobiles and Internet usage.  Parents also say they feel teens can be far more of a pain than a pleasure to live with, but is that just 21st century teens or weren't we also capable of giving our parents a hard time during our adolescence?

Think about what’s happening physically – hair in funny places, voices going up and down, spots and grease, body image, energy levels all over the place.

Think about what’s happening for them socially  - hundreds of Facebook friends, plus all the usual concerns about who fancies who, what’s happening at the weekend, etc

Think about what’s happening mentally – who am I?  What’s my place in this world? – in my family, locally, nationally, even internationally?  Will I pass my exams?  Will I get a job?  Do I think Mum and Dad are cool or idiots?

Think about what’s happening emotionally – I ‘m angry, I’m sooooo excited, I’m depressed, I’m fat, I’m worried, I’m nervous, I’m knackered…I’m in love.  A million feelings, - sometimes  within a few minutes. 

Do you remember what it was like being a teenager?
With all these pressures on our teenagers, it’s no surprise that sometimes their behaviour can be erratic, unusual or very challenging to their parents. 

At the same time, they may well reject you, but that’s actually a good sign.  Seeking independence is exactly what they should be doing, and you have been preparing them to be able to leave home since the day they were born.  However, while they’re still under your roof, and part of your family, it’s OK to respectfully remind them of the family rules, and aim to model the kind of behaviour you would like to see in them.  In order to do that, it’s vital you make time for yourself so you have the gas in your tank to get you through the arguments, the confusion, and the worries.  And also so you can be around when they suddenly want to talk to you, and it’s late.  So ring fence some time for you, be selfish sometimes, and don’t let guilt stop you.

It’s easy to dread the teenage years, or to wish they would hurry up and leave home, but it’s just as important to focus on what’s great about teenagers.  They’ll be gone before you know it.


Recommended Books

Teenagers! by Rob Parsons

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Teenager Manual: The Practical Guide for All Parents by Pat Spungin

Talking to Tweenies by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer