10 Tips for Living with Your Teenager

By Ian Gross | Parents Avenue’s Columnist
Ian Gross is the Principal at Kinabalu International School, Sabah, Malaysia and is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education through Bath University, UK.
Image Source: Parents Toolkit

What happened to your loving, caring, talkative little boy or girl? They grew up and they changed. Spend less time with you, not communicative, moody and private? Sounds like you are living with a teenager. It happens to all parents. 

Teenagers can be challenging to us as parents, giving us worry and stress. Teenage children make us feel rejected, criticised and confused. We want our children to be independent, who doesn’t? When they start showing their independence however, we are not ready for it, thinking they are still too young. Cast your minds back, what were you like as a teenager? 

Is it worse today than when you remember? Arguments with your parents may have led to you making promises to yourself that you would not be a parent like yours were. This is not a new conversation; your parents probably had the same questions when you were a teenager and their parents before them. Being a teenager is a big deal, not only is their body going through some pretty major changes but so are their emotions. How many of us can relate to the following story?

“Once upon a time there was a little boy. His world was wonderful, he lived with his loving Mum and Dad and younger sister, who could be a little annoying. Every day, he would play with his family and talk all the time about what was happening at school. Then the little boy started getting bigger, he became impatient with his sister and didn’t always want to play childish games with his family. Sometimes he spoke back rudely to his Mum and Dad and was upset that he had and didn’t know why he did and that made him sad. He wanted to say sorry but for some reason the words wouldn’t come out. There were friends in school that weren’t really friends anymore and he didn’t know why. Some of the other boys seemed to be getting bigger and hairier and he wondered why he wasn’t like them. He preferred spending time with himself when at home and got annoyed when others came into his room wanting to know what he was doing. Why can’t they leave me alone, I just want some privacy, he often thought, but could not say.”

Teenagers are going through a period of life known as adolescence and the whole point of this process is maturity, physical and emotional. The endpoint is meant to be independence, adulthood. In society it is a chance for the teenager to have their own identity and understand their place. In doing this, they must learn to cope with and understand their emotions. They are learning to build friendships and trust. Teenagers must learn to make their own decisions and deal with the consequences and their own conscience. It’s an exciting time, for the teenager it can be very scary. It’s a time when they need support, freedom and space, but they don’t always know themselves how to communicate their feelings.

Encouragement, support and understanding from parents is so important to help teenagers successfully transition through adolescence and become independent, balanced and emotionally secure adults. Nothing I can write will stop your child going through the teenage years but perhaps I can help fellow parents (yes, I currently have a teenage daughter) as they deal with their adolescent children. Below are ten tips to help you cope in living with your teenager.

  1. Positivity and acceptance: try not to always have a negative view about what they are doing or want to do. They will have different interests and will not necessarily like doing what you do.  The most obvious change you’ll notice is that they probably no longer want to do the things they used to like. This is normal and you need to accept this.
  1. Like your teenager: this may seem strange at first, but you need to separate their behaviour from them as a person. Remember their good qualities, even when they are not behaving as you would like them to. They are not a bad person even if they are behaving badly.
  1. Listen: your teenager will come to you when they want to talk, and it is important to listen to them. Don’t try and force this, it will happen at their time and pace. When responding don’t always give advice and tell them what you would do. Try to show empathy.
  1. Supportive: most teenagers don’t understand what they are going through, even if they pretend like they do to their friends and others. They may be anxious of the feelings and emotions they are experiencing. They need to be reassured that what they are feeling is normal, that they are normal.
  1. Consistency: have boundaries that foster a sense of security, a place of safety. Have rules but be fair and also make sure that your rules and boundaries respect theirs and their right to privacy. Children look to the adults in their lives to role model, good or bad.
  1. Patience: your teenager may have very little patience and probably is going through many mood swings, but linked to consistency and support, you need to be patient and understanding. As with all mood swings, they will swing back to be less erratic.
  1. Care and Love: your teenager is probably acting all tough and like they know everything. Whilst they think they are indestructible, they are not. Adolescence is a time of very mixed emotions and teenagers can be incredibly fragile. Let them know they are cared and loved, but be careful, no teenager wants to feel smothered.
  1. Honesty is the best policy: it’s fine to let your teenager know what you feel, just pick your moments, not a good idea at the same time you are telling them off. As role models it’s important for our teenage children to see how we deal with our emotions and how we can support each other.
  1. Be forgiving: don’t hold grudges against your children, learn to deal with conflict with your teenager as you do with the other adults in your life. We’ve all had arguments with our partners at some point. We know how to deal with conflict, now you just have to do the same with your teenager. Try not to see them as children at these times and more as the adults they are becoming.
  1. Remember: this is only a phase; it is a natural part of their life. Remember also, you went through this yourself and you turned out OK.
Image Source: Very Well Family

As I write, I can reflect on my own teenage years and truth be told, I was horrible. I think back to some of the things I said and did and hardly recognise myself. Yet, my parents accepted (in the most part) and supported me during this time and without that I wouldn’t be who I am now. However, I am so glad I grew up at a time without the internet, that adds a whole new dimension of social pressures for being a teenager today, something we as parents need to be aware of for our teenage children, life was not always the same when we were their age.

There are no rules as to when things will change, you cannot compare one child against another (even siblings) and there is no quick fix to solve the issues this phase in your child’s life will raise. There will also be so many good times throughout this period and many fond memories to be had. Don’t let the teenage years consume you. It may feel at times you are losing your child and in some ways you are. This is a good thing, they are becoming an adult, independent and this opens up a whole different and rewarding side of parenting (or so my father tells me).

Ian Gross is the Principal at Kinabalu International School, Sabah, Malaysia and is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education through Bath University, UK.

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