My eldest is a few weeks away from becoming a teenager. The changes are already occurring, he is nearly as tall as me and becoming more independent by the day.
This is my first time parenting a teenager and these are new and sometimes treacherous waters to navigate. It feels like the stakes are higher, the mistakes he might make could be bigger and with serious consequences. I remind him regularly I have never parented a high schooler and I am still learning!
Trust has become primary. With the freedom he enjoys now using public transport and owning a mobile phone I have to trust in him to make decisions. Will he cross the road at the right place? Will he use his phone inappropriately? Is he where he says he is? Faced with a tricky situation will he make a good decision?
We have spent the last 13 years upskilling him. How to stay safe, how to be happy, how to deal with difficult situations, the importance of listening to your gut and knowing how to reach out for help. We have also taught him no matter how egregious the mistake if he is honest with us, we won’t be angry. While he doesn’t want to talk to us that much, sometimes at midnight it all comes out, the ups and downs in his world, the hardships and the struggle that it is being a kid at this time. I certainly felt while my teens were dangerously boring, his teens could easily become over stimulating.
So we moved to the hills, surrounded by bush. Adopted guinea pigs, got really grounded to help him through it, in the hope he might thrive. It seems to be working.
In the moments when it is not smooth sailing (they come up fairly regularly) I feel sometimes adrift and like I don’t understand the boy I am living with. But as I reflect and he gets older, I have realised parenting a teen is actually very similar to parenting a toddler. Below are some suggestions from experience of how to survive and thrive in this new stage of life, or if you have a little one.
Don’t take it personally
Whether it is your toddler having a tantrum in the shop, or your teen screaming they hate you, this isn’t really about you. If you take it personally or feel embarrassed this is happening publicly it will worsen the situation. Any sane person who has had children does not think your child’s tantrum is a reflection on your parenting! Actually, you child is more likely to have a tantrum or outburst with the parent they feel the most secure with. Your child is feeling overwhelmed. Shouting back, taking it personally is not what they need. Rather, try to help them find the words, or reflect back at them what they are saying. For example: “I know you want that toy and you feel really sad, it is hard!” or “I know it is important to you to go to the party, and I can understand you have strong feelings towards me because I said no”
Whatever stage of childhood time in will strengthen your relationship. I grew up with mandatory Sunday family bushwalks. I screamed and complained about it, but always had a good time when I was there. Now, I do the same with my family. They whine and complain, but they also have fun and feel amazing at the end for what they have accomplished. We share a picnic at the end or bring flasks of tea and hot chocolate and sit on the rocks and chat along the way. My husband mountain bikes and plays tennis with our eldest, we talk pets and Minecraft with our youngest, whose favourite activity with us is just chatting for hours on end. It is important to create rituals as a family. Tuesday night is nacho night in our house, it has been for years. They love the predictability, the ritual and feel contained by it. Both your teen and your toddler are exploring new worlds, and for your teen, new roles and responsibilities. Both toddlers need a warm loving environment to be welcomed back into.
Low on emotion, high on consequences
Discuss your family priorities, rules and expectations. Be clear what the consequences are for breaching these. When you enact the consequences do not raise your voice or get angry, be firm and clear. Remember it is ok to say no, it is often in your child’s best interests. Saying yes to everything is permissive parenting, and that does not create happier children! But remain warm and loving and don’t harp on about the transgression down the track.
Parenting a teens and toddlers seems like two very different endeavours! But the foundational principles are the same, a lot of warmth, engagement and clear boundaries.
We would love to hear about your parenting journey!