Some time ago I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 about parenting teenagers. One call from a listener brought a message which stuck with me; 'as a parent, you've just got to get them through it'. Though it sounds easier said than done, it may be worth keeping this simple advice in mind when running into one of those teenage hurricanes.
We don't receive training to become a parent, unlike any other job where there is an induction programme to make sure we really understand every aspect of the job and the organisation.
What is required of us as parents changes as our children grow and no change is as big as when they reach the teens. Up until then it has been you as the parent who has been in charge. As it changes it can seem that all the good work you have done with them as children has gone to waste; some parents may even begin to believe that they must have performed a terrible parenting job.
Being a parent to teenagers can at best feel a little like being pulled from pillar to post without knowing what the expectations of us really are, which is very disheartening. At worst it can be traumatic. But any advice about how to keep your teenager under control is most probably wasted; it is no longer about control, the situation is more likely to be about helping, guiding and just being there.
The metaphor I often use is that when our children are children, we act as an umbrella; protecting them while also giving them something to hold on to, to keep them steady and show them the way. In teenage years it changes to being more like a trampoline; being there when they need you, letting them bounce off you, providing somewhere soft when they fall and watching as they try to fly.
What you can provide for your teenager is a listening ear. Very often I hear young people telling me that no one wants to listen to them, least of all their parents. Listening to young people as a parent is delicate and at times volatile work, but do it right and you will develop a better relationship.
Some hints on listening to young people:
- Give them attention; stop what you are doing, or slow down, don't turn your back and keep at least occasional eye contact.
- You are going to hear things your experience tells you is wrong. Rather than telling them it is wrong, ask a couple of questions of how it is going to happen, what they think might happen as a result or what they would like to happen. Long term, this is likely to teach them problem solving skills, plus they will learn from their own experiences.
- Give them space! Young people want to start creating their own independence, they need to have their own space to do this. Don’t invade their room unannounced or keeping checking their computer, respect their privacy.
- Listen to what they really say. As adults we are only too keen to butt in with our ideas, while listening is possibly all that is needed. If you aren't able to listen at the moment they need you, make sure you set a later time when you can talk again.
- If you set boundaries include your teenage son or daughter in the discussion, informing them of the reasons and negotiating the consequences with them.
There are lots of different approaches depending on your situation, though the most important contribution by you is consistency and to keep your sanity a good sense of humour helps.
If you are providing some or all of these elements for your teenage son or daughter, then you are probably doing the best you can and perhaps all that is left for you is, as the Radio 4 caller said; '... just get them through it'.
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