If only there was a manual or an instruction book for raising teens!
It is a woe we have lamented more than once. What do I do? What is happening? How do I …? as the echo of yet another door slam bounces around our head, or as we feel the sting of tears on our cheek, or perhaps the uncontrollable hand shaking as we try to maintain our anger and not say something we might regret. The wish for that elusive bloody manual on how to raise teens seems like a holy grail. It almost a joke: “well kids don’t come with a manual!”
There ARE instructions.
There ARE explanations.
There IS advice.
The problem is, we parents can often be blind to it or blatantly ignore it.
There is this phenomenon that I just can’t quite put my finger on, where parents - myself included for a while there - almost seem to choose to stay uninformed about the realities of raising teenagers. We are influenced so much by fear-mongering and perpetuated outdated perceptions. There is a epidemic of parents who have become so set in their ways and beliefs based on their conscious experiences of the younger versions of their kids and unconsciously programmed by their own personal experiences, that they turn a blind eye to the information relating to teenagers that is out there in abundance.
We cry “we don’t know what to do!” in one breath and “don’t you dare tell me what to do!” in the next.
The physical, emotional and behavioural growth of teenagers is thoroughly documented and with one quick online search, there it is. There is actually no excuse for saying “I don’t know what is going on?”. I am referring to the factual information about the cognitive and emotional development of teenagers which impacts every single other element of their lives. Easily accessible information which is essential if you really want to know what to do about your teen. It is, however, the academic-based information that we glance over, or often ignore and that is the problem. Why do we do that?
It is not like we are not willing to read about raising teens: we love reading about how hard raising teenagers is. We feed off articles and headlines screaming about the latest thing we need to be freaking out about. We pass judgement on our kids without even knowing if they are guilty of the crime after reading one possibly sensationalised news story! Perhaps the academic stuff we don’t really want to know because it means we might have to learn something and perhaps change our thought processes or the way in which we have been doing things? It is easier to ignore learning about the realities of the complex teenage development and just focus on the issues we face daily and lament that we just don't know what to do anymore. I mean who has the time and energy?
We live in a very different world these days and the challenges we face as parents, and our kids face as teens, is very different to ‘back in our day’. But we are not back in our day so move on. We now live in a time where so much information is so easily accessible that we should ALL be experts on the developmental stages of teenagers and know very well what their brain function is at certain ages and know full well why our teens are moody or as so incredibly lazy all they do is sleep! We think we are doing our best when we read (and then panic) the articles on screen-time but we seem to overlook the other information about the inability to self regulate due to the current brain function stage. Instead of looking at how we can nurture that brain development along and assist the growth so they can moderate their screen-time, we jump on the (aggressive) protective (overbearing) fear-based information, enforce (unrealistic and often unfair) rules that punish not educate, and miss vital opportunities. And then wonder why self-regulation is still not evident in the older teen.
For example, recently I was in a conversation where a mum was lamenting that her daughter was being selfish because she was unhappy about a confronting, first time experience (that she, the daughter, actually did not ask to be put in) and said that she would never go back there. Now the advice people were giving this mum ranged from removing ALL her privileges, forcing her back to into the situation and so on. What I could not understand was the lack of understanding that perhaps this young girl was confronted, scared - but showed her fear in a way that was perceived as being ungrateful - and perhaps not all 16 year olds are ready for that situation. There seem to be no consideration to what was going on in this young developing brain. The majority of advise to this very lovely mum who was trying to do the right thing was various ways to punish her kid. Nothing to help mum help daughter to work through the concerns and to learn and grow from them.
For some reason, we find it so difficult to accept that the teenage stage is a massive learning stage and there are so many influences that impact positively and negatively - and we parents are often both! Why is it that we can understand and accept that there are limitations to what a 6-year-old can and is expected to do, but when that 6-year-old is 16, we suddenly seem to have expectations that are far beyond their capabilities? Is it because the 16-year-old looks like an adult (I am sure they are certainly trying to behave like one!) and we get confused as to what is deemed appropriate for that age group. We would solidly declare we do know what is appropriate for that age - based on our personal beliefs, experiences, current situation and fears - but what about their ability to process all that? The importance of context should never be overlooked by parent or teen.
The teen stage is a learning stage. I can not say that enough. They are learning to cope with more than we ever had to. We as parents are learning to cope with more than our parents did, but we also have more information than they ever did. I will say this again: as parents, we need to ensure that our expectations on our teens is in alignment to their personal developmental stage. This will be different to each teenager. Just because you were doing something at 13 does NOT mean your 13-year-old should/could be able to do it. Remember, our parents did not always do the right thing by us, and just because we turned out ok does NOT mean it is the right thing to do.
It takes more time, effort and patience to raise a teenager than most people give. I say this not to criticise people, but based on the chorus of concerns by parents that echo around the world, there are soooooo many who are missing vital information. Who has the time to sit and talk, explain, listen, hear (very different things), and compromise? Who has the time to go over things again and again (especially when you are so busy enforcing punishments over and over again because they just won't learn!) I wonder how many of us can actually define the difference between punishment and consequence? Going by the advice I have witnessed offered by parents to one another, most revert to punishment thinking they are implementing consequences. Can you tell the difference?
The first thing all parents should do is get educated about what is normal and what is do-able at what stage. By understanding why some behaviours show at certain stages, means you can plan for how you will nurture/guide them through it. How you are going to assist in their development. By knowing that you will meet resistance at certain stages means you will be aware that it is not because your teen hates you or that they are a shitty person. You knowing this will defuse the anger, hurt and frustration you feel because you know why it is happening.
I can honestly say that after I learned what was going on in the background and after I had the context to the situation, I found that the conflict and frustration levels subsided dramatically. My approach was defined by where they were at, (three different kids requiring very different approaches), and included them at all times. We have fewer fights, an increase in willingness for responsibility and accountability and generally an easy-going trusted relationship. We have lots of open communications and honestly enjoy each other's company. My teens are happy, healthy and exactly where they should be developmentally. It would not be possible without me getting educated about more than what to be scared of and what punishments work.
It doesn’t take a university degree worth of study to get your head around this important information. Even a simple online search can offer a wealth of information. Check it out, digest it and then use what you learn to assess what your current approach is to your teen. Do you know what needs to change, be tweaked or shelved until later? Put the kettle on, an allocate an hour to read this link (for starters). It is a simple Wikipedia link, nothing too complex: Adolescence Make notes of things that you knew and things you did not. Jot down things you want to know more about. Use this basic information to see the ‘lay of the land’.
Parenting teens is a task that requires constant review, reflection and revision. Are you using strategies that worked when your teen was 12 but doesn't seem to work now she is 16? It can seem exhausting but not as exhausting (or potentially damaging) as constant fighting and conflict. It is not that we have been ‘lucky’ that we have such great relationships with three teenagers who are responsible, mature, genuine, kind and honest. They are the way they are because we invested in their teenage years. It was not a case of building walls and creating punishments: it was about creating safe spaces for them to grow and learn. It was not hard and we have all grown as people in the process. Trust me, it is not luck, it is by design.
If you would like more links to reputable information sources, please ask on the Talking Teens Facebook page. If you would like to work with Jo one on one or to know more about the Talking Teens resources, please contact Jo direct!