How to Enjoy Parenting Teens and Help Your Kids Thrive
This article is here because my daughter’s friend said “Your mum’s cool. She’s a great parent.” It led to us asking what makes a good parent of teens?
My children are 18 and 15 and I don’t think I get it right all the time. However, having asked on social media, I think I get an easy ride. So from my daughter’s point of view, coaching and mine, here’s how to get the best out of teen years for you and your teenagers.
1. Know How They Wind You up
Teens know how to hit every annoy parent button going. Work out what triggers you and work on yourself before you engage with them.
As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t talk to a colleague at work like it, then don’t speak to your child like it. Your aim is to help them become successful adults and that’s a process that should start from birth – even as young children, you want them to be able to communicate effectively to get what they want, be strong minded, confident and capable in the big wide world.
So you need to be their role model. And that’s not easy when they are hitting your buttons.
Find yours and desensitise yourself to them. (For me, I can internally laugh and think “What must I have sounded like to my Mum at this age?” And that diffuses any frustration.
2. Understand Why They Grunt
Maybe you wonder, “Why do they grunt – they communicated better when they were 7!”
Teens are learning to be who they are (and there’s plenty of adults who still don’t know!) So don’t expect them to behave the same as they did when they were little and cute.
If you get grunts and groans at suggestions of things to do, it’s not them saying “That’s the worse idea ever;” that’s them questioning “Is it okay to be me? To do this? To live like this? To want this?” They are questioning:
- Where do I fit in the world?
- What do I want to do?
- What should I train to be?
- Will I have to move town?
- How will I cope?
Many questions that any adult would find daunting, and when you know the science that their brains do not finish growing until they are in their 20’s, you can see why you might have days where you have the equivalent of a Teen Zombie on your hands.
Ask yourself if you could cope with your job, family life, friends, chores and still find the brain space to answer the big life questions.
According to research by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore whose research lab is based at UCL in London,
“The answer is this: the prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotional responses and inhibits risk-taking, is going through physiological changes that make some adolescents act in such seemingly incomprehensible ways.”
When you consider the prefrontal cortex functions in cognitive control (planning, attention, problem solving, error monitoring, decision making, social cognitive and working memory) you can start to see why they forget to empty the dishwasher or behaved as they did. It really is not their fault!
3. Deal with Your Own Feelings
They are growing up and inevitably they are going to leave home. While many cheer there’s still that sinking empty nest feeling that can have many negative connotations:
- “I wish they would appreciate me.”
- “They don’t know how easy they’ve got it.” Etc etc.
Ultimately it can lead us to question:
What’s my role? Where will I fit in their future? (Or even – will I?)
Don’t get ahead of yourself and have gratitude for this time – it’s limited.
I got upset at Christmas when my son reminded me this could be his last stocking under the tree. (Yes we still do that – read on for why.) As my son said to me “I’m not gone yet, you’ve got me for another 14 months yet.” I had to hide the sad sigh I nearly let out.
But of course he was right. And if I get this right, I will be a part of his future. It’s hard to admit your role at this age is to become surplice to requirements. But then, you remember there will be a whole new myriad of ways they will want and need support, and of course therefore your jobs not over yet.
4. Respect the Door (And Get It Reinforced – They Will Slam It!)
Things are changing and they need space to work out what that means; just as you want to desperately hold on to the cute child that used to run home from school and want a cuddle and to tell you all about it.
When their door is shut, respect that – knock before you go in. Don’t fear something sinister is happening in there. It showcases you respect their space. These little unsaid things will start to speak in a positive way to your teen.
Likewise, you want them to respect your privacy and quiet time – and my children are far more respectful of me as I’ve given them more respect. Which leads us on to…
5. Relinquish Control – Start Them Young. (8 to 10 Years Old)
How and when will I relinquish control? At what pace? And why is this important to introduce?
From that age, our children had no bedtime. We’d discuss how tired they thought they were, and when did they want to go to bed?
Yes we would have “I feel wide away Mummy” nights where they were clearly exhausted and then the conversation would progress to:
“So what’s the reason you keep yawning do you think?”
“When Mummy yawns, what do you think it means?”
That kind of question is a coaching question that puts the responsibility back on the other person. And it helps them to learn to listen to their body – something critical for the teen years.
You can’t expect an 19 year old to magically get up ready for a day at work or university if you didn’t help them learn to listen to their own bodies years in advance.
6. It’s Okay to Play
I asked my daughter’s friend why she felt I was a great parent. She shared that while I was “scary,” (code for expected high standards) I encourage play.
At 15, a group of girls can feel awkward jumping around in a pool and playing like, well kids – is that allowed as teens? As I pointed out at the time – you’re in a secluded garden – you can squeal with excitement, play volley ball and no one can see you to judge you playing – it is still allowed at 15.
That’s why my children still set up for Santa every year. Don’t be so quick to grow up.
As a coach, it is only when I bring fun to the session can someone really deal with difficult obstacles in their life. Lead by example, let them see fun is not off the agenda just because you grow up – they have incredibly creative minds at this age, so enable and empower that and they could benefit for their whole lives.
7. Know When to Loosen the Leash
Social media and phones in general can be a massive headache for parents.
“You spend your life on that phone,” ask yourself why.
Is it because they hate the real world and it’s more fun?
Or is it more likely because they can hang out virtually with their friends no matter where they are or what “lame” chore they’re doing? It can lighten the load by sharing with a friend. No different to you.
When I was a kid, I was constantly moaned at for having my head in a book; “Get outside” “Don’t you want to go and play with your friends?” I’d hear every weekend and holiday.
I love reading – it’s an escape, a place to learn. A place to calm my thoughts and not have to engage with anyone or anything – that phone does the same for them.
Instead of being so quick to limit their time and control when and where they can use it, have a conversation about how your teen likes to use their phone and how it can be used to navigate the fact you are in a family environment, and you don’t always want to see their face with a metal block in front of it;
“How can I give you your space and time with your friends every day and get to hear about your day too?”
Remember, don’t make it about you and your needs – it’s not that they don’t care; it’s just there’s too much going on for you to be at the top of the importance pile.
8. Teach off Line Time by Getting off Line
Our interconnected worlds are awesome to reduce loneliness, but they also can make us question who we are and reduce confidence and escalate anxiety.
One report by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK surveyed 1500 young people, ages 14 – 24, to determine the effects of social media on issues such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and body image. They found that YouTube had the most positive impact, while Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat all had negative effects on mental health
9. Ask Yourself “What Did You Hate Your Parents Saying to You?”
I can remember my Dad had an infuriating rule that we weren’t allowed out on a Friday night – “Friday night is family night.”
I’ve always believed in the importance of a meal sat around a table where everyone gets to off load about their day. But my teens can be keen to race their food desperate to get back to homework, gaming or friends online. However we expect a little of their day.
“In 24 hours, I don’t think it’s a lot to give your Mum and Dad an hour at meal time” I say.
It’s a completely reasonable request (with relapses allowed as you will see below.) But it ensures we stay bonded as a family and the conversations always include laughter and yes, some stroppy antagonising between siblings. But it’s a chance for 4 people to come together and chat with no agenda. Hence no phones, but even that has leniency.
If you want to be a part of your teens’ life, take an interest in their passions. I don’t have a great love for K-pop but I can do a few of Twice’s dance moves and I can sing along to a few BTS songs. It’s about respecting them, their hobbies, passions, interests, etc.
You can’t expect respect if you don’t give it, right? That’s why even the phone rule can get a reprieve.
If they’ve seen a great meme or a funny YouTube, if we’ve finished eating, we will suggest they fetch their phone so they can share it. I’ve also learnt it means they end up sticking around long past the allotted 60 minutes Mum and Dad time to share other videos and share more.
This obviously is something I’m not prepared to relinquish. I feel it’s a life skill I want them to learn now. But it wasn’t just enforced – we talked about the reasons why we felt it was important and how to make it a part of their day they enjoyed rather than endured.
So I listen to the things they hate and even if I’m not keen, I flex and bend:
I will let friend stay in the week.
They have proven that a game or film is age appropriate when I’ve thought differently – and they’ve then listened when I’ve firmly said “Actually sorry but no, not yet.”
I don’t say “Your too young” I’ve asked “What do you think that outfit may suggest?” And usually with a sigh they’ve been able to see the logic – but again they’ve also convinced me otherwise – my daughter convinced me she should have fish night tights (Like many things for me, these were banned as a teen and I was badly bullied for being the only child in 150 students wearing school colours when everyone else had the latest trends! My parents told me it was character building – I know now it took many years to find my confidence and like being me)
So there’s compromise – She can have them if they are under her holey jeans – Daughter Fashionable – Mum Happy.
10. Remember That No Conversation Is off Limits
While that may feel daunting and possibly even a little icky for you, if you aren’t prepared to answer their questions when and how they need them answered they will go online – and 31% of children have shared a fake news story.
My friend said they wouldn’t be talking about sex with their 10 year old because it wasn’t appropriate only for it to come up in a conversation in front of me.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be graphic detail. A simplified answer is usually enough – and if you get an over exuberant questioner, there are lots of books that will help you and them learn the subject without feeling you are losing their childhood before your eyes.
That way they will grow up knowing they can trust you to give them true and honest answers. Treating like young adults.
11. Mom’s and Dad’s Have Needs Too
Teens need to learn that they are not the centre of the universe but in a delicate way – because right now, they feel like they are.
Choose your moments wisely. You can say “I feel like I’ve got a lot on this week, do you feel you can think of any ways to help me get through it all? Are there any chores around the house you could help with?”
One client introduced home rules and was surprised of the knock on impact it had in their professional lives too.
12. Don’t Drop Your Standards
I don’t want to paint a picture of two angelic teenagers – my daughter just now didn’t listen and ended up hoovering all 17 rooms instead of the 4 I asked she hoover – we laughed after I gave her a minute to calm down!
But the fact is if you feel like they aren’t listening, they probably aren’t. They start to wander off when they’ve got their thoughts out of their head….
So choose your time well to discuss things you feel are important and ensure they’ve heard what you’ve said.
I often hear “You didn’t say that.” When you get that answer, It’s no good getting into “Yes I did, you were standing right there when I said it!” because that turns into a she said, he said moment that couldn’t get unpicked it a court of law.
Make sure when you ask them to do something or need to know something, you have a witness – that way either your partner, friend or their sibling can say on your behalf “Did you hear what your Mum said?” Usually you get a vague “er yes.”
Or ask them to repeat it back to you. That way, you know that they know what they’ve been asked to do – so the excuses for why they didn’t do it later won’t happen.
Just remember if you have standards and you expect things from them. Be prepared to listen to them and understand what they feel is important too.
13. The Bank of Mom and Dad Doesn’t Need to Shut but It Does Need to Come with Terms and Conditions
It won’t be long before they need to go to the bank and ask for a loan to buy a house or set up student loans – get them into the habit of understanding financial conversations and terminology.
Don’t get all high and mighty with “You need to understand the value of money” or “In my day we respected money” they aren’t listening (remember?)
On the other hand, if you say something that relates to what they want in the world – a lift to a party (late at night) the latest K-pop band album that they HAVE to have the day it comes out, you can ask “Okay I’m happy to help you achieve this, how will you be paying for this?”
My children get low pocket money that’s paid into a bank account, and has been since they were young. And yes, only they had the bank card because I wanted them to learn about how to handle money; to save, to understand when it says zero on the balance, you don’t have the funds to see the latest Marvel film or meet your mates. So, what are you going to do about it?
The reason they get low pocket money is not because we are evil but, because when those overpriced K-pop albums are shipped half way around the world to my excited teenager, she is excited and proud:
Yes she saved up. Yes she delivered a thousand newspapers to help pay for it.
And that level of determination and sacrifice of other short-term things she would have loved to own mean I’m happy to make up the difference.
The interesting thing is they never ask for money. So, if it’s given as a surprise, they are always very grateful and appreciate that is not the norm.
I usually ensure after the “Thanks Mum, you’re awesome” has died down, we do have a serious conversation around “Now, you know why I paid the rest right?”
And I then give her the space to think and list of “Yes mum, I helped with the kitchen, I have cleared my washing (I don’t do their washing – if I do their washing at 15 and 18 at what age are they going to learn? Just as they are starting a long houred new job or as they start University and will need their brain space for far more important things.)
We are 4 adults living in this house all with:
- Weekend plans.
And because of that we all need to appreciate that every week this house will need:
- Floors washing.
- Grass cut.
- And various other tasks.
Don’t confront them. Don’t give them ultimatums. Ask questions like:
“I know you’ve got big plans for this weekend, as you can see the house needs to be tidy by Monday, what can you do to help with that?”
“I know you’ve got a lot of homework to do but a little brain space will help you process your thoughts. So in between homework, how can you help with the weekly chores?”
And if they don’t help? The recycling has ended up on my sons bed and I have put dirty cups back in my daughters bedroom with a note saying “Sorry these don’t live on the side.”
14. Don’t Assume What You See Is What You Are Getting
Adults hide their true emotions all the time. I know that sometimes the last thing my kids want is me in their room, but other times they want a chat and someone listening to them.
Don’t go in strong – still be who you’ve always been to them but read the signs:
- Longer gaming than usual.
- Sitting in the dark on the phone.
- Not wanting to eat with you.
- Getting home and hiding in the room without even saying hello.
- More short tempered than usual.
- Eating more or less.
There’re many and you know your child. Trust your gut instinct but don’t go in all guns blazing “Let mummy fix it!” The door will be slammed in your face or you will hear “Ergh, mum you just don’t get it.”
With teens, it’s all about the timing.
15. Be Proud
List their brilliance – it will help you for the day they are hitting your buttons.
16. Don’t Push It
When my son finished his GCSE’s, he was going to be off school for nearly 4 months. I had made it clear that the rest of the family were working, so he wouldn’t spend 4 months gaming. If he didn’t’ find a job, I could find plenty of jobs around the house. (I sound so evil right?)
I’ve learnt that to push it means they will push back. So when one month passed and still he had no job, he noticed the money dried up. He wanted new shorts (This had holes). Everyone was going to the cinema and“he didn’t have enough in his bank account.
I didn’t argue with him, I just said “A job would probably be useful then” and wouldn’t get dragged into it; as hard as it is I so wanted to just phone my business contacts and find him a job.
I knew that the real reason he hadn’t found a job was because he feared going into restaurants, bars, shops and offices and asking for one. I can remember that fear and I wasn’t going to force his hand. His friends did that for me.
Eventually 2 months later when I still wasn’t opening the doors of the bank of Mom and Dad, he came home proudly to announce he had been offered 5 interviews and had 2 jobs he could immediately start that Saturday.
In one morning!
Wow that was fast? What did I do?
He needed to get there for himself. Eventually the pain of not having the things and experiencing what he wanted was associated with having no money. And so he did something about it despite the fear of talking to strangers or carrying 5 plates at once.
Fear will never stop being an issue in life – trust me as a coach specialising in this, I know!
Wind forward 6 months and the boss of the restaurant stopped me and said “Your son has an awesome work ethic, is great with customers, gets loads of tips and learns quickly.” Now that beats any school report!
If I had forced him this first memories of interviews and getting jobs, it would have been stressful for him.
By not pushing him, he could get there on his own and now knows he can get the job – that’s essential knowledge and experience for life. Interviews are scary enough!
17. Teach Life Skills
Basic life skills such as how to shake someone’s hand, how to greet someone, why eye contact is important and what your body language can say to people – before you get a chance to speak…
These (and many more) help when you aren’t feeling confident to try new things. Don’t expect miracles only 5 years earlier he was still asking me to take him around the local area to find Pokémon!
18. Make Time for Fun
There are few things I put my foot down about. We expect a high standard from our children and don’t get me wrong, they can stomp off and slam a door like Olympic champions if they want to, but they do know we expect:
Film night once a month – we will provide the sweets and popcorn you give us 2 hours of your life.
Meal time every night – with a few naughty treats – do you know how excited a teen gets at the prospect of a pizza in bed all on their own watching what they like?
I think it’s only fair because we all need space and while I’m not keen on the eating in bed thing –give in and let them do a few things they love. Your actions show you care. Even if the bed sheets aren’t so appreciative.
In the school holidays, I expect them to come out for the day with me and yes, take them to any café or restaurant they like. Give and take.
Go to the cinema and see what they want. I could go in a different cinema and watch my choice of film but it’s usually a dead cert that I will be watching Marvel or some off spin CGI film with them instead.
I’ve seen every Disney, Pixar and Marvel film going – I could do with a break and a few films with real humans in, but my theory is you don’t get to keep them for long.
And that’s the point isn’t it. If you find yourself seeing red, and struggling, they are at the age that they could be moving out within a few years and that’s it for this stage – it’s all over.
I cherish every half term. Every moan about a teacher. Every in-depth description of “she said, he said” because in a few years time, they will get new people in their lives — girlfriends, boyfriends… And then you really are knocked off their pedestal!
As my mum said to me when my children were very little, teething and sleep was something I’d read about in a fairy tale. But I didn’t believe were real, I’d asked “Mum does it get easier?” and my Mum replied with a smile “It doesn’t get easier, it gets different.”
So I look forward to what the next stage will bring – probably no less worry, no less fun, no less conversations but, possibly more place settings at the table and some exciting times. Another reason to cherish every day now.
Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com