Changes in the teenage years
Teenagers can be tricky! When children are young it is easier to have rules and enforce them. As they grow up teenagers start developing their own identities and this may not fit in with the ‘obliging child’ of their younger years. They may not want to meet up with their parents’ friends, they may have some issues with extended family gatherings, family holidays, going to church or continuing with practising an instrument. They may also have very different ideas about how they want to spend their evenings.
Parents lose power and influence
Whilst some parents can go with the flow, remembering their own teenage years and need for independence, other parents can really struggle with the lack of control that they feel as their children grow up. It is difficult to lose the power and influence that parents have established.
Preparing for adulthood
And yet, most parents understand that the ultimate goal of being a good parent is to help your child be independent, confident and able to function well in the world. With this in mind, your teenager needs to gradually assert themselves and have a say in what happens to them. What is more, adults need to encourage this transition and allow their teenager to make decisions, plan their time, have more control and yes, occasionally make mistakes.
How parenting changes in the teenage years
So what is the role of a parent with a teenager? How much control should we insist on, and how much should we stand back? This is going to be different for each family. Parents are still responsible for their children. There need to be some rules that reflect the values of the parents and which are non-negotiable. Each family has to decide for themselves what these are, and in general, having just a few hard-and-fast rules is best. However, parents need to be flexible with a teenager’s social life and allowing them some independence. When they leave home, if they have not had a chance to become responsible they will suddenly be bombarded with temptations of all descriptions. It may be best to allow them to enjoy some of those freedoms whilst you are still around to help them support them when they find out the consequences of their actions.
8 steps to develop responsibility and self-reliance
- Limit pocket money: With our own children, we have tried to help foster both independence and responsibility. Our teenage daughters get £15 a month pocket money which goes on the mobile phone contract.
- Encourage them to earn money: If they need any more money they have to earn it. One daughter has become our house ‘cleaner’, the other gets temporary work at a hotel to earn money. One daughter racked up a large phone bill, so she is paying this off gradually.
- Organise their own socials: We allow the children to arrange get-togethers with their friends provided they check with me first, and we ferry them around to these.
- Maintain family expectations: We expect them to attend extended family meals.
- Have rules to keep them safe: I don’t like teenage ‘sleep-overs’, so my children know that I will need to talk to the parents about the plans for an overnight stay and whether there will be alcohol there.
- Allow alcohol at family meals: At the weekend if we have a bottle of wine with the meal, we will offer it to the children to have with their meal. (They rarely want to try it, and if they do, just have a tiny glass.)
- Encourage opportunities to mix with both sexes: As they go to a single-sex school, we encourage them to do activities where they mix with boys and girls, and they will go to a mixed sixth-form college.
- Ensure they take responsibility for their belongings: If they lose something they pay for it –including school uniform, but we happily replace anything they grow out of. We provide essentials and they pay for anything extra.
It’s all a matter of helping them be responsible with their money and in social situations. And it is important to explain your values to them so that they use their freedom wisely.
Support when things go wrong
One of the things my children know is that we will be there for them if ever things go wrong. Once or twice there has been a situation where they have made a mistake. They know they can always come to us and we will help them deal with the situation and support them.
As they grow older and leave home, as a parent this is one of the things you can do which will make a huge difference to your child. Not to bail them out, but to listen, help them problem-solve and to support them when they need to deal with the consequences of their actions. They need to know that you love them unconditionally and will stand alongside them in any difficulties they will face. They also need to trust that when they make a mistake you will listen and not judge. But will help them work out how to deal with the issue and learn any lessons. At that point, your reaction will be crucial to your future relationship so think wisely before you react to your child admitting to an error of judgement.
Make time to talk
Finally, just be there for your teenager and young adult. When they need your time to chat, make it a priority. At home make time to talk every day. When they leave home speak as often as you can. Ring them if they don’t ring you. Learn to text; learn to use Facebook and instant messaging. Keep the lines of communication open and be sure that they know that they can come to you for support and a listening ear whenever they want. Hopefully, this will set them up for a lifetime.