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How to tame your teen

Has your little darling become Kevin The Teenager? We've asked a top parenting expert for advice.

Kevin the teenager baseball cap scrunching up face

Teenage kids. Who’d have ‘em? And how the heck do you parent them? There’s certainly much agonizing about this subject around the watercooler (OK, tap) at Muddy HQ of a Monday morning.

Which is why we’re currently all fighting over the dog-eared office copy of Ian Williamson’s excellent new book We Need To Talk: A Straight-Talking Guide to Raising Resilient Teens. Ian is a highly experienced child psychologist who’s counselled over 50,000 teenagers during his career, so he knows a thing or two about epic sulks and door-slamming. He points out that parenting teens is always going to be a tricky business, so you shouldn’t give yourself a hard time about it when your little darling suddenly transforms into Kevin The Teenager.

Here’s Ian’s no-messing advice for navigating those choppy waters….

three drunk girls with long hair dancing in a room

However well you think you know your adolescent there will be large parts of their life you will know nothing about.

It always comes as a shock when parents find out that the child they thought they knew has a whole other life going on. This is a normal part of development and is not a sign of a deceitful adolescent. In order to become independent, they need to have a part of their life that excludes their parents.

 

Adolescents need parents to be parents; they do not need them to be their best mates.

There is a popular misconception that we need to be matey with our children in order to really understand them. Many parents fear being seen as an authority figure and as a consequence don’t want to get into conflict with their child. Being an authority figure separates us from our teenagers and puts us in the role of leading them rather than being part of their world. For many parents this is untenable. They feel a need to believe that their children see them as ‘cool’. This is utter nonsense – most adolescents think supposedly cool parents are at best an embarrassment and at worst complete idiots. And they have a point.

 

Your job is not to parent in a way that avoids disappointment or conflict but to help your adolescent manage these painful feelings.

Your job as a parent is to prepare your teen for adulthood, not to make them happy. Of course it is painful for any parent to see their child distressed and natural to want to protect them. However, it is worth pausing for a moment in any given situation to try to assess what exactly it is that they are upset about – for example, if they auditioned for the school play and didn’t make it, they must deal with this gracefully. Although I know there are plenty of parents who’d kick up a huge fuss for them, it is doing their children no favours whatsoever. Life isn’t fair.

 

It is not an infringement of their human rights to have to do what they are told.

I frequently hear from parents that they like to reason with their adolescent, they like to explain exactly why they have to do something. This inevitably leads to negotiation and debate. As a parenting style this has very little to commend it. It assumes a parity of status, which in reality doesn’t exist. It is also used to avoid conflict. It is a style which only works if the teenager agrees with the parental logic. If they don’t – and they rarely do – then the parent eventually reverts to screaming and shouting. Believe me, the wiring of the adolescent brain would seem to preclude all presence of logic. So if you insist on using negotiation as a way of managing your child’s behaviour it will almost certainly not succeed. In fact, you will feel as if you’re forever just ‘negotiating’ and permanently failing to convey all reason.

 

However grown-up they try to convince you they are, however arrogant and confident they appear, remember it is mostly it is an act.

Most of the time your adolescent feels anxious, frightened and lost. Don’t harp on about their vulnerability and failings; they are only too aware of them. Try instead to understand that their bravado is mostly posturing.

 

We Need To Talk: A Straight-Talking Guide To Raising Resilient Teens by Ian Williamson is out now

 

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