In the past twenty-five years, my husband Alistair and I have had the privilege of being parents to four teenagers so far. During this time I have learned two things;
All teenagers are different and I am still no expert!
But in all honesty, we have probably more experience with teenagers than most and after learning from a good amount of trial and error, this is my advice to any parent who is staring into the teenage years and looking for a little reassurance.
Parenting a teenager is a bit like walking a tightrope. As parents we desperately want our children to be safe and happy but we also want them to be able to grow into confident and independent adults.
How do we get the right balance so that they know that we are always there for them without stifling their independence?
Up until now as their parent, you have played an important part in their lives but lately, it feels like they want to spend less time with you and that your relationship is changing. You are navigating new waters and it feels like the goalposts are constantly moving.
As parents, we can find it very difficult to accept that as our children grow into teenagers their lives no longer revolve around us.
Remember what it was like.
Take a look back to when you were their age, what was important to you? How did you feel? Chances are you were more interested in what your friends thought and did than your parents.
How could they possibly know how you were feeling? They were never young, were they?
Navigating life with a teenager can be a confusing time for both us as parents and for our young adults. It is important to remember as parents we shouldn’t take their shift in priorities too personally, it is a natural transition that we all go through and come out of the other side.
Remember we want them to become independent adults enjoying a happy and productive life.
There are a number of ways that we can make sure that we stay connected with our young adults while giving them the space to grow.
Be there for them.
The most important thing that you can do for your teenager to help them feel safe is to let them know that you are always there for them if they need you, that you respect their feelings and are there to support them no matter what. If they know this then they are more likely to bring things to you if they are worried or have a problem.
Listen without judgement and give your full attention. Being present is the most important thing we can give our children and young people. It is so important that we allow our young people to make mistakes, it’s part of life and how we all learn.
The most important thing is that they know you are there for them no matter what happens.
Make family time.
While it is natural for teenagers to push parents away it is our job as parents to make sure that they know that they have an important part to play in family life and that they feel connected with the whole family.
This can be achieved by spending time together as a family. The teen years can be difficult and often bring up intense emotions so while it is important that while our teenagers are learning to map out their own lives, they don’t begin to feel isolated within their own families.
Keeping a strong connection to family while respecting their independence is essential.
Carve out a time of the day where the whole family can spend time together, pick a time that suits your family.
My household is a busy one, seven people live in our house and we all have work, college and school but we all try to take the time to sit and eat together at the table for our evening meal.
Research shows that sitting at the table rather than in front of the tv or in separate rooms encourages conversations and often entertaining debates and that spending time together can strengthen the connection between parents and their children enormously.
I love nothing more than having the whole family together, hearing about their days, listening to their chatter and laughter, and everyone is relaxed and enjoying spending time together.
Keep them in the loop
Let your teen know in advance about upcoming events. They are less likely to resist taking part if they feel that they have been consulted about them, no one likes to feel like they don’t have a choice and they are being forced to be somewhere that they don’t want to be.
This is such a simple thing but I have found that it helps our family. We have a big calendar on the door where we can write down upcoming events and appointments so the whole family can see what is coming up in the weeks and months ahead. I find this helps everyone feel more prepared.
Finding the common ground
Find something in common. We sometimes find that it can be difficult to please all ages in the household at once, we tend to have a movie night on a weekend and whoever is at home that night joins us.
We have sweets and fizzy pop and the rule is that everyone has to agree on a film, often this can take a little while!
Evenings can be a strange one when you have teenagers and young people in the house, most parents find that if they are not out socializing with their friends they might be off in their separate bedrooms doing their own thing.
While there is nothing wrong with alone time and we all need it, you could use this opportunity when the younger children are in bed to spend some quality time together.
How about getting into a tv show or boxset together? This can be a great way to stay connected and bond over a shared experience, it will give you something new to talk about and you get to spend quality time together as a family.
You can check out my post on 57 tv series that the whole family can enjoy and where you can find them in the UK for some ideas on where to start and you might find it becomes a regular thing.
Spending time together as adults will encourage a closer relationship between both teenagers and their parents and help them feel secure in their place as young adults within the family.
Learn about what is important to them.
Parenting a teenager can be a demanding job, it can feel like all of a sudden your loving, open and talkative child has become a stranger to you. They don’t want to talk to you like they used to and they are interested in new things.
It is hard for us as parents to accept this change, we’re not ready, but if you want to stay connected with your child you are going to have to put in some effort to get to know them again.
Your teenager is learning about their own identity and is wanting to be more independent. Friends and relationships outside of the family are beginning to play a bigger role in their lives. Remind yourself this is a good thing you wouldn’t want your child to be dependent on you forever!
Friends are important to our teens so let’s make their friends feel welcome. Let your teen know that their friends are welcome at any time and encourage them to invite their friends around.
By making your home the place that they want to hang out in you are providing them with a safe space and you can be confident that you know the people that your child is spending time with.
As parents, we need to support our children without judgement so if there is that one friend that you are not keen on you are better off keeping it to yourself and keeping them close! Your child will learn in their own time.
Make your expectations of their behaviour clear and they will respect you for it. Independence comes with responsibility.
Learn about their interests and really listen to what they have to say. Really paying attention to them when they are talking to you about something that they love will make them confident to come and confide in you when they need to.
We all have busy lives that we are trying to juggle, work, other family commitments and money but if we can take the time to be present and listen to our children it will really pay off in our relationship with them in the future.
Respect that they are young adults.
Our children from day one are people in their own right, they have a right to choose how they look, (outside of school at least) how they feel and what they do. They have the right to solve problems, make their own mistakes and learn from them safe in the knowledge that you will be there to pick up the pieces no matter what.
If you can give them this freedom to make mistakes early on in your parent and child relationship and lead by example it will help them when they grow up.
We have to be prepared for the fact that they might want to do things differently from how we would do them and that’s fine. We are all individuals, the world would be a boring place if we all thought the same!
A tricky one for us parents is when our young people start dating. This is a big fat reminder that your baby is growing up fast and while it is perfectly natural it can come as bit of a shock to us parents.
The best thing you can do is keep it cool! It is important to make sure your teen feels comfortable about bringing their boyfriend/girlfriend home so don’t make too much of a fuss about meeting them as this could create too much pressure and you might find that you scare them both off, we want to get to know the person our teen is in a relationship with. They might not be the one but they are definitely the one for now to them.
This is an exciting and sometimes confusing time for them. Try to be supportive and don’t offer your advice unless they ask for it. You probably wouldn’t have appreciated it at their age! Our emotions are especially heightened when we are teenagers so be prepared for some highs and lows!
Make sure that you speak to your teen about healthy relationships and about taking care of their sexual health. Talking openly and honestly about sex with your teen doesn’t mean that they are going to dive straight into sexual activity but it will ensure that if and when they do they are ready, informed and will be careful.
Our job as parents.
When our children become teenagers they will crave that all-important independence that they deserve but we should also try to remember that they are going through big changes, both emotionally with all the big feelings and physically, they need to know that we will support them through this.
Right at a time when the last thing they want to do is spend time with their parents, in some ways they have never needed us more. They are learning about the ways of the world and themselves and it can be a lot sometimes. It is our job to be there to support them always but not to take over.
Parenting our children through the teenage years can be a challenge but if we have clear boundaries and are clear about our expectations we should be able to navigate it without too many major family issues. As families, we need to work towards making small steps so that we can stay connected to our children.
If we listen to them and allow them to talk about their feelings we can support them fully while encouraging a healthy sense of self-worth.
Your relationship with your kid might have changed but it really can still be healthy and rewarding for both of you. You are moving into a different chapter as a parent, hold on tight, enjoy the ride and try not to look back too much!