What is it about engaging with your adolescent child that can sometimes bring out the very worst in you? Is it the eye roll, the grunt response, the door slam, or the comparison to other mums?
Much of our stress about parenting teens comes from fear. Fear that we are not doing it right, fear that we are going to mess this up and fear that our response or lack thereof will lead them down a path of self-destruction.
Please know that if you are reading this article, if you are seeking advice for what might be helpful … you are already doing an amazing job.
No matter what age your child is, you are always enough.
THE TEENAGE BRAIN
So, what do you need to know about your teenager’s brain to make this all easier? No this will not be a biology lesson. Your teenager’s brains are undergoing the greatest developmental change since their first year of life. Think about your newborn that you held in your arms, now picture their first birthday. Well, that is the degree of change that your adolescent will be going through from 12 – 18 years of age.
There are so many changes occurring for them, in their body, hormones, level of cognition, and the mental and functional structure of their brains. Part of their brain is losing grey matter, it’s called pruning. Think of how raw and vulnerable pruned rose bushes look and then the expediential growth that occurs in a few months. Well, that’s your teen’s brain. It begins a new growth period where connections, learning and wisdoms develop over these years.
Teenager’s behaviour is not always deliberate. This reconstruction phase results in moodiness, emotional reactivity and risk taking. It has nothing to do with what you are doing or saying as a mum.
So, what does work when it comes to our teens?
For a start don’t bother sharing with them what you’ve learnt about their brain or what you read in an article. They won’t be interested, and you shouldn’t be offended.
PARENTING TEENAGERS: THING TO DO …
Yes, I know you are ready to have a scintillating conversation with your child but know you may be met with minimalist responses. The best time to communicate with teenagers is when they don’t have to look at you. In the car, on a walk, whilst you’re busy doing something around them. If they ever deem to share a meme, TikTok or Netflix series recommendation, show interest. Although you may have so much to say, the more talking you do the less they will do
Let them know you support them
They need to know that their Mum will always be there for them. Remember support is different to doing everything for them or clearing an easy gentle path so there are no challenges. You can let your teenager make mistakes and still be supportive. Letting them take risks and fall is part of this period. Your empathy and understanding needs to non-negotiable.
Acknowledge when things go well
There will be moments and it doesn’t matter how small or insignificant they are. These are the golden moments. Notice when they do something helpful or engage positively with anyone in the house. Make sure your praise is specific, genuine and reflects your appreciation of them. Don’t be tempted to add a comment that derails the positive moment, like “why can’t you do that all the time”. It’s okay if your acknowledgement isn’t well received, let that go.
These should already be communicated to your children, and you need to stick by them. It is okay for there to be different rules for a teen than a younger child. Rules are there to ensure your adolescent is safe and healthy. Think about what that means for your family. Talk about these with your teen, and remember you want to connect but you are their parent, not their friend.
PARENTING TEENS: THINGS NOT TO DO …
They don’t want to hear about our teenage experience. They don’t want to hear about the teen parenting seminar you attended. Nor do that want to hear about what your friend suggested worked for her son.
Don’t Go Overboard with punishments
Everyone needs boundaries and to understand consequences. It is never the severity of a consequence that changes behaviour it is that the consequence occurs. If the consequences are too severe or you’ve gone too hard in a moment of anger, you’ll find yourself giving in later. Your teenager is going too make mistakes. They are trying to manage with the frontal lobe of their brain under construction. That means their executive functioning and impulse control is poor. Loss of privileges, e.g., phone screen is useful as a consequence but limit it to one day or one night. Going overboard with punishments does not change behaviour but creates alienation.
Don’t let your fears about not being in control dictate your response. They are going to challenge, push back, be defiant and argue. Fighting with your teenager, contradicting their view, and disregarding their ideas and knowledge results in a negative relationship.
Try doing this when you feel like you are at your wit’s end
Cool down, breathe, count to 10 before you do or say anything
Assess what is happening here. Do I need to respond to this now? Can this wait until we are all calmer? Your teenager needs to know as parents they can tell us bad news without us losing it.
Listen, validate, and seek to understand what they are saying. “I can see you are annoyed”, “Yes that does seem unfair”. Don’t comment or judge.
Make a plan. What do we need to do right now? What can we do later when we are both calmer? Teens need to share their reaction. Our response has to wait. Take your time before you respond with a consequence, comment, or action.