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Parenting Teenagers: Sure It’s Tough Today, But It’s Not Impossible

Are you finding it challenging to live with your teenager? You’re not alone! It’s normal to experience conflicts and disagreements during this crucial period of your child’s development. But don’t worry, there are ways to navigate this stage without losing your sanity. Let’s share some tips and tricks on how to maintain a healthy and positive relationship with your teen. Together, we can make this journey a little bit easier.

The blogs that will follow this first one will share seven principles, they are much more like proverbs than promises, they are not guarantees. Children don’t come with guarantees (I think it’s because if they did too many would get sent back) but there are these principles in parenting that if you apply them will help you avoid mistakes and succeed as parents.

SETTING THE SCENE: To quote a teenager “But why?”

Adolescence is now and always has been a tough time. In fact, it’s about the most difficult stage of change in life. Unfortunately, at the same time children begin to progress through their adolescence, their parents move through their new stage in life in which they begin to experience new and bizarre things. Things like partial memory loss! And the thing they most commonly forget is their own adolescence.

As a parent you reflect on being a teenager and remember the thrill of new discovery, the wonder of it all, the excitement, the anticipation, the hopes, the energy, the adventure. You forget the pimples, the awkwardness, the gawkiness, the lack of motivation, the self-doubts, and the fears.

I want to remind you of that a bit here. I want to remind you that it is now, and it always has been difficult to be an adolescent. I’d also like to remind you that it is now, and always has been, difficult to live with an adolescent.

Well over 100 years ago Mark Twain said “When a boy turns 13 you should put him in a barrel, nail it shut, and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16 you should plug up the knot hole. They’ve been a problem for a long time!

This blog, and the book that it will grow into, provides information, ideas and encouragement to help you navigate the smoothest possible pathways and achieve the best possible outcomes for your teenager – and you.

This begins with answering the question: What is your most important role as a parent? Is it to provide unconditional love, freely expressing and receiving affection? Is it to provide for the physical needs of adequate food, clothing, and shelter? Is it to do everything in your power to maintain your child’s health? Is it to provide the fundamentals of your child’s education: the power to read, write and count? Is it to ensure your child has a sound moral and spiritual view?

All the above are incredibly important, but they all lead to the same desired outcome: to prepare your child to be a capable, confident, and successful adult. The underlying method to achieving this (and this may not be a popular way of expressing it) is control. As the parent, you set the rules and timetables – what to wear, when to eat, how to play, where to go or not go. These controls change as a child gets older, but they are crucial elements in the preparation for adulthood because you are both setting the best path and keeping your child on it. Of course, exercising control leads to conflict: from the toddler tantrum in Kmart to the teenager’s violent slamming of a door loudly narrated, “I hate you! I hate my life! I hate living in this family”. This conflict is the most significant contributor to the difficulty of raising a teenager; minimising it (without sacrificing your values and wisdom) will make your life better and your teen’s growth and development easier.

By the word control I do not mean that absolute authoritarianism associated with families in the Elizabethan era or strict religious communities, but rather a daily interaction between you and your child that leads to the development of patterns of thinking, choices, and behaviour that give your girl or boy the very best chance to become the best person he or she can be.

Perhaps a more palatable word for this process than control is levers. Using levers is not about coercing your child to act and think for your good, but processes by which you can gently adjust the progress of your child’s life.

This began the day that child arrived in your life. Think of all that you did to get that baby to feed and sleep, have that toddler wear warm clothes and avoid dangerous situations, encourage that primary schooler to eat politely, do homework, and shower. Oh, please shower! The levers you used for your pre-teen are losing their effect on your teen, principally because even before the physical signs of adolescence appear the shift in attitudes arrives.

A drive to independence and questioning marks adolescence; the teen will regularly challenge the logic of the parent’s instructions and rules and increasingly choose to act on his or her impulses.  The clever parent, you, then adjusts the levers accordingly. This job is tough and has been since time immemorial, but today it is harder because of the way our society has changed.

In the space of just 3 generations Western society has moved from one with largely homogenous values, beliefs, and cultural mores, all derived from a strong sense of tradition coupled with a general belief in a Divine power.

Parents were not alone in directing their teens successfully and safely through adolescence because a whole range of authorities existed that compelled children to behave in certain ways. Teens didn’t always follow the authorities, but the authorities were everywhere, reinforcing the values and behaviours of their parents.

The homogeneity of society, the most powerful authority, meant that while all teens had different values and priorities from their parents (which is still true today), current Western teens live in a world where adults present a smorgasbord of attitudes, lifestyles, and morals. Where once the rebelling teen reluctantly knew that Mr & Mrs Walters, Aunty Thelma, the Zanettis, and everyone at church, agreed with mum and dad, today’s teens are reinforced in their rebellion because they know that the Hyde-Smiths next door, Uncle Ryan who they see at holidays, and @45andlovingit on Instagram would agree.

The next great authority was a commonly accepted set of values and principles by which all people lived. Not everyone followed them to the letter, but the vast majority believed they were absolute. That common set of values has now gone. There are no absolutes for kids anymore, everything is open to question and relative; they live in a world where an opinion is valid because it is held, not because it is true. Consequently, when there is a clash of views, the parent must work much harder to argue her or his case. And we’re not just talking about Climate Change, conservative versus progressive politics, or the morality of war. In fact, it is not usually those things; more commonly, it is clothes, music, make-up, social media and games!

The third great change in authority is that it wasn’t that long ago that if all else failed and you still couldn’t convince the kid by logic, you could convince the kid by the fact that you were to be heard simply because you were the adult, there was an inherent authority you held because you were the grownup. That basically, as you all know has gone, you no longer have authority just because you’re a parent.

When I was a boy, my father would say to me “Graham, do it.”  And I’d say, “why”. To which he would reply, “Because I said so” and I would do it, begrudgingly with muttered curses, but it would be done (usually slowly).

I tried it with my daughter. I’d say, “Do it”. She’d say, “Why” I’d say, “Because I said “so”, and she would reply, “Who said you can say so”. There is no inherent authority.

Ask someone who was a teacher a generation ago. That teacher would walk through a playground and ask a kid, “Could you pick up that paper?” The kid would grumble but pick it up. Today that kid will say, “Why, I didn’t put it there”. Say to a class, “Can you straighten those chairs?”  and they’d straighten the chairs, today they’ll say, “Why, the next class will mess them up anyway”. Everything is challenged, especially when it’s the big stuff of life.

As a result, when you come to debate those issues with your adolescent that are critical and create conflict:

  • you have no derived authority from a homogeneous society.
  • you have no authority from a standard set of morals and values.
  • and you have no authority because in the teen’s mind there is no such thing as an absolute authority.

Don’t be depressed! For every bad news story there is a good news one, and there certainly is here. When all of the traditional props to parenting are removed, we are left to rely on the one foundation that is most likely to work and always has: rules without relationships lead to rebellion.

The better the relationship you can develop with your teen, the greater the likelihood you have of positively influencing your teen and of being the rock on which that teen rests when he or she is being battered by the many negatives kids experience as they progress through adolescence.

The seven principles (or levers) we will explore in this series of blogs all work to build and maintain excellent relationships while functioning as the guide, educator, comforter, and motivator every good parent is.

They are:

  1. The key to good relationships is dialogue.
  2. Pick your battles wisely, or you’ll be battling all the time.
  3. Break the no-talk rule before it breaks your family.
  4. Don’t handicap teenagers by making life too easy for them.
  5. Catch your teenager in the act of doing something good.
  6. Remember – the Lone Ranger never had kids.
  7. Something is better than nothing.

Enjoying these posts? Then get the “prequel” –Understanding Your Teenager,  an eBook that reveals what changes are happening in your child – physical, social, emotional, intellectual – and equips you with knowledge and ideas to deal with them. Only $7! Click for more information

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