Nothing can prepare you for parenting a teenager. Those years where your children thought you were the centre of the universe and did as they were told are long gone, and you’re dealing with a whole new ball game.
The landscape is constantly shifting and it’s hard to keep up, but there are some classic mistakes parents make with their teens that can be easily avoided if you’re aware of them.
- Treating your teen like they’re still a child
Once puberty kicks in, your child has hit a risky stage of development – one that includes dramatic growth spurts and cognitive development. This, coupled with external changes like starting high school, which can lead to heightened emotions and increased risk taking.
The trick here is to encourage your child to take manageable risks that are age-appropriate and help them to learn and grow – all while providing that soft place to land when things don’t go according to plan.
Let them fail an assignment if they haven’t done the work. Be prepared to eat a horrible meal because they’ve had free reign in the kitchen. Let them catch the bus home and walk back home after they miss their stop. These learning experiences – and bouncing back from them – are an important part of preparing for adulthood.
- Treating your teen like they’re an adult
On the flip side of that, don’t be tempted to treat your child like an adult just because they insist they are one, are taller than you, or so desperately want to be one. They have their adult P plates on – they’re still learning and they need a nurturing environment and a guiding hand to make it a safe journey.
Remember that kid you knew as a teenager who was allowed to do whatever they liked? Things seldom ended well for that kid.
A person’s brain isn’t fully formed until they are in their twenties (and some would argue we still have a lot to learn then too). It’s important to set expectations, boundaries and limits to help your child feel secure while they find their place in the world.
- Arguing over screen time
The reality is that screens are here to stay. Fight that, and you’re denying your child the opportunity to learn how to deal with the online world while they still have you around. Either that, or they’ll just use it when you’re not around. Teens don’t think of the world as being separated into on- and off-line – it’s all just the world they live in.
Being online allows them to find like-minded friends and groups, understand risks and opportunities, and be a support network for one another.
Have open dialogue about social media and understand the apps they’re using. And it’s still important to set limits: turn off the wifi at night (or put their screens away somewhere they can’t access them), and encourage them to have regular off-line time, including socialising, getting plenty of exercise, and getting some sunlight.
It can also be useful to draw up a contract with your child where you outline the expectations and rules, and the consequences of not following those rules – then you each sign it.
- Being besties
It can be tempting to be friends with your teenager. For so long they’ve been a child but now they have become a complex and interesting character with their own opinions and ideas. And while you’re trying to set limits and boundaries, the notion of being buddies instead can seem appealing.
But your teen doesn’t need another friend, they need a firm and loving parent. It’s not your place to seek your child’s approval – it’s your place to ensure they know what’s expected of them and hold them accountable. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it in a pleasant and loving way, but it does mean you need to be prepared to make the tough calls and to be unpopular. Your child will thank you for it in the long run.
- Assuming the worst
Whenever you talk to other parents about parenting teens, you’re pretty much always guaranteed to hear negativity and horror stories. Rarely to you hear about the joys of teenagers, although there are many.
Yes, parenting a teenager comes with challenges, but teens can also be incredibly thoughtful, intelligent, creative and interesting. It’s when you start to see glimpses of the adult your child is going to be, and that can be thrilling.
The world is a confusing and scary place for teens sometimes, and they can have trouble processing everything that they’re going through. That’s why they need you to be there for them, encouraging them and helping them to bring out their best.
Don’t forget to ‘catch them’ when they’re being good and comment on their achievements, as well as the stuff they could use some help with. That positive reinforcement will see them striving to do better in the future.