A parenting expert has offered her advice on how to deal with wayward teenagers.
Anita Brown, 49, from Essex, penned ‘A Parent’s Worst Nightmares – And How to Cope’ after her own experience raising a 17-year-old daughter who once wished her mother dead.
The author explained that teenage years are fraught with conflict and fear for parents.
‘Parents struggle to balance rules and discipline, with a desire to protect their child from harm,’ she said. ‘Gradually we loosen the apron strings and hope our child has become an adult, who is capable of finding their way in an often turbulent world.
‘Walking that tightrope is often challenging for even the most accomplished parents, and we often make mistakes when our teen is an unwilling participant in the process.’
Speaking exclusively to FEMAIL, the writer has advised what parents can put in place that will lead to more co-operation – and fewer slamming doors.
1. Remember your own teenage trials and tribulations
The first thing I had to remember is what it felt like to be a teenager. It is one of the most confusing times of your life. Your hormones are all over the place.
One minute you feel fine and the next you are sobbing into your pillow, or lobbing your books at the wall in anger. Then include the intense anxiety to fit in, as suddenly your body takes on a life of its own.
It almost seems it was on a mission to embarrass you in front of your friends, with its unpredictable bodily eruptions.
Your world has changed. You go from having not a care in the world to having to take responsibility, but ironically you feel like you have less control.
You have to make decisions about the future, something you had never really thought about, other than when your best friend was coming over for tea. And oh my god the pressure from parents, teachers and friends.
It makes you want to hide under your duvet until things go back to normal, doesn’t it? This is your teenager’s reality every day. So firstly have a bit of compassion.
2. Decide on a ‘safe word’
There will probably come a time when even a well-behaved teenager finds themselves in a situation where they are at risk of harm.
Most teenagers will feel out of their depth on dealing with it on their own and will go along with it because they have no other option.
They don’t want to call their parents for fear of the repercussions and having to explain what is happening. Therefore it is a great idea in advance to agree on a safe word or phrase.
Your teen can text that word or phrase to let you know that they are in trouble now.
It could be something as simple as “I forgot to feed the cat” when you haven’t got a cat.
When you receive that message you immediately phone your teen and give them an excuse to leave the situation they are in, that won’t alert their companions.
It could be something like, “Your Dad has been rushed to the hospital and I need to take you to see him now, so I’ll pick you up in five minutes”.
Having a safe word in place that means no discussion just immediate action will give you both peace of mind.
3. Accept your teenage has a life
The next thing is to accept that your teenager has a life. When we bring a baby into the world the baby becomes an extension of the parents.
We don’t ask the baby whether he is free to pop to the supermarket. We just pick them up, strap them in the car seat, and off we go.
As your child grows we continue doing the same thing. Even when we drop them off at school we don’t imagine them making plans for a holiday, with their school friends in the playground. Because the reality is they don’t.
We organise everything from play dates, and appointments to holidays. When they hit those teenage years that changes, suddenly they have a life. They are planning things with multiple people.
Just because you want them to clean their room, empty the bin or help with the washing up it doesn’t mean they are free to do so right now.
They might be in their room looking like they were doing absolutely nothing, but are they really?
Are they consoling a friend online, thinking up the words for the next number one rap song or hanging out with friends while storming a virtual castle?
Give them the opportunity to add your request to their schedule, obviously within reason.
Pick your moments and try compromising when they want something from you. “I will iron your football shirt now if you could bring those plates down from your room for me.” Respect is a two-way street.
4. Avoid control tactics and set boundaries
Every parent needs to know how to put in their own strong boundaries. Parents naturally want to help and support their child as much as possible but the danger is when they or you attempt to control actions by the use of control tactics.
Now, these can range from covert manipulation which can be things like nasty spiteful comments right up to physical violence.
Each action is designed to make the perpetrator feel superior. These tactics will only work if you allow them to.
Both you and your child need to look after your own physical, mental and emotional health.
Engage with a therapist if you are finding things particularly difficult. They will help you to pick apart any persistent power games and provide better-coping tools.
5. Be open and honest so they learn the necessary skills
The teen years are such a short amount of time when an adult looks at it but for a teen, it seems to go on forever.
So being able to meet in the middle is a good idea. Make time to discuss the “plan” that all parents have, but that they never really tell their children.
The plan is largely unconscious but it is based on imparting skills and knowledge to your child until they have everything to be a fully functional adult. The quicker they learn these skills then the more freedom they have to learn more advanced skills.
Do we tell our children this? No, so they believe that these restrictions will go on forever.
My mother started work at the age of fifteen and was for all intents and purposes a fully functional adult but times have changed and priorities are now different.
Is that a fault of today’s society where children are kept dependent for years longer than they should?
Explain the plan to your child and be honest that sometimes negotiation is going to be required to come to a mutually acceptable decision.
So the sooner they learn to express their thoughts and feelings in a conversation rather than shouting, the better the process will be for them. If your teen wants to do something that you are not happy with, be honest say you are scared or worried.
Explain which bits worry you the most and why. Ask your teen for help in coming to a compromise.
6. Listen to show you have an interest
The last point here is to learn how to really listen. In this fast-paced world, we are bombarded by constant drains on our attention.
We become masters of watching TV, posting on Facebook, cooking dinner and talking to our children all at once. But do we really listen with all of our attention or are we just paying lip service?
When your teenager wants to talk, sit at the table, turn off the TV and put your phone on silent.
Give them eye contact and listen carefully. Don’t interrupt just listen. Show them that you have an interest in what they are saying even if it isn’t something you necessarily would have.
It is really important for your teenager, so try and make an effort. Take this opportunity of focused communication to tell your teen that you love them.
Parents often say my teenager won’t listen to me. If you are not showing them how to listen when they talk to you, why would they listen to you when you are talking to them?