Adolescence the very word strikes a shudder of fear and frustration down a weary time poor parent’s spine. I was the perfect teen of course lol …yeah ok its 2024 time to get real.
No, I wasn’t. The times I fought with my Mum could fill the MCG. I remember getting so frustrated once I stood behind the kitchen door flipping the bird and swearing under my breathe with the venom of a pissed off brown snake. She must have smelt the venom because she flipped the door open quick smart to find me full finger in flight. I then got a roasting for that too, on top of what every other crimes and misdemeanours I had committed.
I did feel under siege alot of the time, but I on reflection I could be mouthy and a big back chatter. Both my children have inherited that infuriating trait, it must be my penance. LOL
Erik Erikson, that cool theory dude who wrote the psychosocial stages of development theory said that the adolescent stage was a time where, as the hormones are having a festival level rage in the body, the newly minted young adult is struggling to find their place in the world as a unique human being. They had to work out their self-identify versus role confusion. Essentially who am I? What do I believe and where am I going? This stage was between 12 and 21 years old and could be quite a steep learning curve, where teens break away from the values, beliefs, and restrictions of their childhood home into the world of adult responsibilities and experiences. We get to challenge what we grew up with and realise that our parents were not perfect or the font of all rational or applied knowledge.
Getting along with your teenager can sometimes be challenging, due to this sometimes-heady transitional phase, however, fostering a positive and open relationship is crucial.
Here are some tips to help you connect with your teen:
The best thing I learnt when it came to parenting my teen was to LISTEN to understand NOT TO DEFEND MYSELF . I’ve said it a million times, perception is reality and how my kid sees what happens may be very different to my takeaway from the incident.
My daughter stayed in Melbourne when we went to the Gold Coast to live in 2019 . I thought we had clearly told her that we did not want to leave her with my mother-in-law, but she did not want to move with us and was 18 years old. We knew she would be taken care of well and she had always said to us she wanted to move out when she was 18, so it seemed like a no -brainer. Then the pandemic hit just as we moved in January 2020. Worst possible time for your kid to be interstate. She didn’t fair well after a year in lockdown and told us over the phone that she had felt abandoned and hurt that we had left her. Now I could have reeled off all the reasons she was wrong and go over once again why we left. But seriously what would that have done? Probably turn into a conflict about whose perception was the truthful one and at the same time robustly invalidating my daughters’ feelings. It didn’t matter that we had had conversations about us leaving and the reasons we left, she was upset NOW My job in that moment was to validate her feelings and understand that she was hurt. Shed spent nearly a year in lockdown, it did a lot to the psyche and wellbeing!
There is so much time wasted in fighting to be right. Pick your battles and be mindful of when something is worth fighting over and when it’s not.
Communication is key:
Listen listen, listen, without interrupting to correct anything they say. Its their story not the facts we are listening for at the start of this process
Be an active listener. Give them your full attention when they want to talk.
Encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Check for clarity that you have heard them by repeating back what you heard.
Now you have just opened up a dialogue – well done you ! Tread carefully and mindfully from now on in .
Respect their autonomy and independence:
Once your kid turns 18 remember they are an adult. My daughter got herself 3 large tattoos in the space of a year. I hate the damn things but its her body, part of her self-expression. I’m old fashioned. Expecting your child to be like you and a refection of your values and attitudes in all areas is a recipe for a poor relationship and years of unnecessary wrangling. Give them space to make their own decisions and consequently mistakes. If you live through a fear lens they will too, and you will not encourage them to grow and learn through trial and error.
My husband is great at “suggesting “to our two young adults Even when they were 14 or 15 he would calmly give them his view and make available options without pressure or being dogmatic. He would always ask “do you want my opinion on this, or do you just want to vent?”
Many parents especially those who have neurodiverse children will spend a lot of their interpersonal relationship trying to protect their child by making decisions for them and controlling the amount of risk their child takes. This may have served them well when hey child was young but as teenagers they need to spread their wings and gain some sense of self agency. Parents when they see this emerging sense of self can they cripple their child’s growth into it heir next stage of psychosocial development by allowing their own fears dictate what is best for their child. Learning to give them the dignity of risk can be scary, but it is necessary. As parents we need to feel the uncomfortable feelings around this and deal with it ourselves does not transmit it to our child
Find common interests:
If you are not a great communicator as a parent and have had trouble with expressing your feelings then having ongoing deep conversations with your teens mya not be your thing. That is ok, it doesn’t mean you are somehow less of a great a parent. There are other ways to become close. Sharing a hobby or interest, is just as beneficial. Its shared quality time but also gives you talking points and wonderful memories to look back on.
The biggest issue with teens not doing as they are told or not listening is because we as parents are inconsistent with enforcing the rules. Many of my parents complain to me that their teen is on their phone or computer all night. When I ask, what time did you go in to make sure they had turned off? Oh, I didn’t, I told them last week 10pm was off time.
Unfortunately, they know that!. Who sticks to rules when no-one is watching LOL?
You MUST follow up and monitor ,and you must give them the reasons why you are establishing that rule. I can remember getting so frustrated with my dad as a teen when he used to say “don’t do as I do, do as I tell you “. This seemed like the height of hypocrisy as I could not see the sense or legitimacy in that stance! your kids are smart and will see through that in nanosecond.
If they break a rule you have clearly outline make sure you have a spelt out to the letter consequence, and always follow through. Once again it’s the inconstancy that is the issues. You may have heard of the operant conditioning theory by Skinner who purported that mammals are motivated by punishment and reward. If a child gets a consistent punishment for a behaviour that behaviour will reduce. If a child gets a consistent reward that behaviour will increase. If a child gets intermittent reward they will also continue that behaviour, so if you say no but then sometimes get worn down to a yes, they will persist as they know it sometimes works. There is an old experiment in psychology that had rats getting pellets by pressing a bar. Once the pellets stopped, the rats stopped pressing. When the pellets came occasionally the rats kept pressing and pressing knowing they would eventually get a hit. I guess it’s like pokies really. LOL
It’s a turbulent time for teens. They are navigating a lot, and their arguments and reactions will not aways be rational logical or make a once of sense to your mature paternal and maternal framework.
Be understanding of their moods and challenges without dismissing their feelings. Give them space to work through it.
When they come to you with issues just listen, validate their feelings, and offer love and support, without judgement or trying to solve their problem for them Be patient and understanding: Understand that mood swings and challenges are part of adolescence. Patience is crucial in navigating these ups and downs. Avoid unnecessary power struggles; choose your battles wisely.
Encourage independence and responsibility:
Teach them to cook! I had to drag mine kicking and screaming to the kitchen as they both hate cooking but my son who is 19 can cook a few basic meals now Give them opportunities to take on responsibilities at home, dishwasher, feeding dog and washing their own clothes. Mine have both been doing their own laundry since they were 16.
Help them develop decision-making skills by involving them in family discussions this can be hard to do when you are shift workers and it gets harder when they become teens and have their own schedules, but Sunday brunch/ lunch could be a great time to have family connection time..
Teach them life skills that will prepare them for the future. I always say that I wish I had taught mine how to deal with banks, mortgages, credit, and finances. Maths should be taught in school this way too I believe!
Celebrate their achievements:
Praise them, praise them praise them!!!. Recognize and celebrate their accomplishments, no matter how small. I started this with my kids when they were small. From cleaning their room well to a pretty painting. I know say “thank you, and I appreciate it “every time they put out my washing or do a good job of cleaning the bathroom.
We have an emotional bank. That bank needs deposits every day to stay healthy. Negative comments drain that emotional bank. If we get too many withdrawals and not enough deposits then those deposits don’t register for very much and the negatives leave us flat and depleted. Positive reinforcement can strengthen your relationship and boost their self-esteem, they are also a buffer when the negatives do occur, and we can bounce back easier. Its a bit of wellbeing scaffolding .
Stay involved in their life:
It’s important to recognise their achievements however small they are. Attend their school events, sports games, or performances. Keep abreast of their academic progress and social life. They can be quite selective and compartmentalize their life with their friends from family but if you invite long-time friends over frequently then this may transmute to when they are teenagers too.
Demonstrate your interest and support in various aspects of their life.
Apologize and forgive:
One of the biggest lessons I learnt was how to apologise for my mistakes and own my side of the conflict. This was a huge decompressor me in my relationships. For my kids it was a great way to learn that parents are not perfect, and that apologising is not weakness, shame , or admitting guilt it is just acknowledging and taking responsibility for your part in what escalated or the conflict situation. It is great role modelling, and it shows respect for your child as a human being not just your offspring. When they make mistakes and own them praise them for it and move forward, forgiving them for that mistake. They need to know that everyone makes mistakes they occur so we can learn and grow.
My teenagers are now young adults. I made some mistakes as we all do but I do believe I have fostered a great relationship built on a foundation of some of the things I am sharing with you. It’s never too late either. If you are estranged from your teen or young adult then, work out ways you can approach resolution. Start with just listening and reflect back what you hear at a very slow pace…..you never know where it may go …………
Building a strong relationship with your teenager requires time, effort, and understanding. Keep the lines of communication open and approach your relationship with patience and empathy.