Parenting teens is a rollercoaster ride that comes with many highs and lows. I am in the throes of parenting two teens currently, with challenges ranging from tantrums to tans, tight fitting dresses to pushing boundaries, tech to relationships, spots to study…and everything in between! Here is my take on the the hurdles every parent faces when parenting teens.
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It seems like almost overnight your meek, obedient, loving child morphs into a moody, wilful, boundary-pushing, grunting mini adult with attitude. Being a teen is a wonderful, difficult time for parents and the teenagers as they grow into the amazing adult they will become.
The hurdles when parenting teens are many, but the rewards are too as you and your teen navigate these tricky years. The best piece of advice I can give is choose your battles, some really aren’t worth fighting for.
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Parenting Teens: What to Expect
I swore I would never turn into my Mother, but when my daughter – transformed almost beyond recognition and her tender years by fake tan, make up, straightened locks, and the tightest, shortest bodycon dress she could find – appeared to go to her first disco, I had to choke back the words “under no circumstances are you going out looking like that!”
Her friends filed in behind her, all similarly attired and oozing a body confidence I wish I could bottle. As I drove them to their first disco, I tried to hold back on repeating all the advice I had spent the last three weeks giving my daughter, and instead keep the mood light while trying not to converse in an embarrassing Mum way.
My heart was in mouth the whole three hours they were out. I was back 20 minutes before they were due out, just in case any of them wanted to come out early – how naive was I, that was never going to happen! Instead they trooped out full of excitement, laughter, banter and all with that confidence that comes with youth.
You hear horror stories all the time about teen drinking and bad decision-making, but really there comes a time when you have to trust them. Yes, they will make mistakes, but if they have good friends who have their back and they know that you are there for them, you will have a much better relationship in the long run.
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School and Study
The transition to secondary school can come as a shock to your teen. They suddenly have more freedom, more responsibility and more teachers than they ever had before. It can be overwhelming at first and it will take time for them to settle in to their new normal.
Your teenager may find the increase in homework a huge hurdle at this point in their school career, so be prepared and on hand if you’re needed for homework help. They will be studying new subjects, with an onslaught of new information to absorb. Go gently with them, and encouragement is crucial.
Roll on three years, with their first big state exams looming and this is the next big hurdle you will need to parent them through. Pressure comes from all sides, and the last thing they need is you constantly on their case adding to the exam stress.
All teens are different. Some will happily come home, eat and hit the books, while for others, the study option at school may be better. There is no wrong way to study, so help your teen discover what works best for them.
The exams will come and go, some will do better than others, but the secret is to get them studying to their ability, so they can achieve their potential.
If your teen has an idea of what they want to do in the future, check what points they need for those courses and study to achieve those points or just above. They can’t all do medicine or law, and for some university isn’t the right choice.
You can help your teen to find their passion and to discover where their strengths lie through careers guidance, combined with aptitude testing. We will all be working longer as life expectancy rises, so finding work doing something they love is really the most important factor.
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Sweating palms, racing heart, distracted and never home – or when they are home, they’re never out of the shower and always in front of a mirror. All are signs of first love, which can be a turbulent time when parenting teens.
In an age of technology, you may find your teen’s first love constantly in your home, if not physically (although this is likely) then through the medium of technology. In our ‘always on’ world, they can communicate any time of the day or night!
Navigating first love can be tricky. You may find yourself having to hold your tongue. Try not to be critical and hold back on comments. Your child will not see faults in their first love, only in the way you perceive them. Be there to pick up the pieces if it all goes wrong and try to keep the lines of communication open.
By now, you will have talked to your teen about sex (if you haven’t, now is the time to have that chat). They need to have respect for themselves and others above all else and have an understanding of the consequences of taking things too far.
Remember, most of us don’t end up being with our first love for life. And as parents we wish for them to be happy, healthy, well treated and honest. Give them the courage and confidence to say ‘no’, to respect a ‘no’ they have heard from their partner, and the understanding of what feels right and wrong.
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Your teen will always be ahead of you when it comes to technology. It becomes impossible to police as they grow and you need to give them space to interact, learn and enjoy technology.
We live in an ‘always on’ world, where your child is accessible at all times. Set boundaries and stick to them so they do get some down time, away from the pressures of technology.
I remember when my youngest wanted to get SnapChat because all her friends had it, even though she was below the recommended age. I spoke to a friend with older children and her advice was to let her have it, but give her guidelines and rules around using it (for example, I can look at it whenever I want, and if you feel uncomfortable at any time come talk to me).
Her reasoning behind this was how she heard her own children comment about kids who had joined later than others. There is a language and way to interact on each social channel, and those coming to it later stick out and make social gaffs that other teens don’t let them forget easily.
When the majority of their friends are using a particular social channel, research it and make a decision, as it can be more intimidating for your tween or teen coming to it later on. Trust is the defining factor when it comes to technology and it must be two-way.
Unfortunately how they act and speak online is something they always need to be aware of as it can adversely affect them for many years to come. More and more universities, recruiters and employers are checking their potential students and employees on social media, so your teen needs to be aware of how they present themselves even at this point.
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One of the best things you can do when parenting teens is to set reasonable boundaries early on. These should be set together, as they will then be more likely to stick to them.
Setting boundaries will avoid arguments and hurdles at a later stage. As they grow and develop, these boundaries can be negotiated to reflect their age and growing maturity.
It will also be necessary to set some effective consequences for your teen for when those boundaries are broken. I have found from experience, anything around limiting mobile phone usage works well!
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Parenting teens is about keeping them safe now, but also equipping them with the life skills they will need in the not-so-distant future. While your teen has no problem spending money, it’s important that they start to understand money, where it comes from, how you earn it, and essential money management skills. Heading off to university without knowing how to budget, is a recipe for disaster – equally, going into a well-paying job without a clue on how to save some of their hard-earned money is doing them a disservice.
While there are rules around the employment of minors, there are plenty of job ideas for teens that will be suitable even from early teens, including babysitting, car washing, cutting grass or doing chores around the house for money.
If they take part in sports, there may be an opportunity to become a coach or referee. This is usually available to them once they reach 16 and can help them combine a passion with the ability to earn money.
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Learning to Drive
I have not yet reached the learning to drive hurdle with my teens, but many friends have. Gone are the days when your parents can take you around the local car park after hours and you could roll up a few weeks later to take your driving test.
Now you have to do a theory test and take a set number of certified lessons with a registered driving instructor before you are permitted to take your test.
In all honesty, this is a relief as I am not sure I would have the patience or the skills needed to teach my teens to drive – but don’t tell them that! You do pick up bad habits as time goes by, so hold your tongue and let them get on with it.
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Health and Fitness
The teen years see many kids drop out of sports. This is especially true for girls. I feel very lucky that my girls both have a passion for swimming – it is a punishing routine, with early mornings and weekends spent poolside and nights out missed because of training. But what an amazing life lesson they are getting, even if they don’t always see it.
The discipline it takes to compete in any sport offers life lessons that no school or parent can teach. They run far beyond the health benefits as they learn about responsibility, how to listen and process instructions, how to act around their peers, recover from disappointment, and look after their body.
While I think we are becoming better at helping our teens to understand health, hygiene, and nutrition, don’t skip the opportunities to have these chats when you get the chance. Schools have helped, with many introducing a no junk food policy, and I do find that my teens read the labels on food packaging. They care, much more than I ever did, about their nutrition and what foods they put into their body.
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Friends and Peer Pressure
The changing times of the teenage years means that friendships will ebb and flow. Best friends from primary may not end up in the same secondary school, and even from month to month there may be fallings out and friend drama – particularly with girls.
Peer pressure is an increasing concern for parents, because it is no longer just a face-to-face issue. The rise in social media, and the variety of channels available, mean that peer pressure and bullying have been taken up a level.
Reinforce your rules and advice for social media, online safety and, in particular, drill home the message that anything online, including photos and videos, lasts forever. Encourage your teen to come to you and talk about what’s going on – they may avoid you like the plague in return, but knowing they can if they need to will make a difference to knowing there’s someone in their corner.
There will be blips of course, and alcohol and drugs are more freely available than ever before. We would be naive to think they will not be offered and probably tried by our teens. The best help you can give your teen is to equip them with the facts and be there to pick up the pieces if it happens. There has to be trust when parenting teens – erode this and you are heading for trouble.
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Love, Don’t Judge
Always remember that your teen is going through massive changes, both physically and mentally, at this time. It may seem that their friends and peers are more important to them than their family. That is just because they get them, implying that you don’t!
Be there when they need you and trust that you have equipped them well for what life throws at them. There will be mistakes, but hopefully they will learn from them. Love them, don’t judge them as they take their amazing journey of discovery towards adulthood.
There will be many hurdles on your journey parenting teens, and if that journey is not running smoothly or you are worried about your teen, do seek help. Not all of us will make it through the teen years unscathed, but knowing there are people and organisations that can help is a bonus.
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Have you any other hurdles to add to our parenting teens post? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!