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Negotiating the teen years

Remember how you breathed a sigh of relief when the ‘terrible twos’ were over … well prepare yourself for the rebellious teens.

The primary goal of the teen years is to achieve independence. To do this, teens will pull away from their parents — especially the parent whom they’re the closest to.  Parents may find that kids who previously were willing to conform to please them, suddenly begin asserting themselves and rebelling against parental control.

Experts advise parents  to look closely at how much room you give your teen to be an individual and ask yourself questions such as:

“Am I a controlling parent?,” “Do I listen to my child?,” and “Do I allow my teen’s opinions and tastes to differ from my own?”

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Here are some tips to help you negotiate the teen years

Educate yourself

Read books about teenagers. Think back on your own teen years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing early — or late. Expect some mood changes in your typically sunny child, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she matures as an individual.

Have THAT talk

Starting to talk about the changes puberty brings after they’ve already begun is starting too late. Answer the early questions kids have about bodies, but don’t overload them with information — just answer their questions.

The sooner you open the lines of communication, the better your chances of keeping them open through the teen years. Give your child books on puberty written for kids going through it. Share memories of your own adolescence. There’s nothing like knowing that mom or dad went through it, too, to put kids more at ease.

Pick your battles

If teenagers want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents and it’s a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; save your objections for things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol, or permanent changes to their appearance.

Set reasonable expectations

Teens might act unhappy about the expectations their parents place on them. If parents have appropriate expectations, teens will likely try to meet them. Without reasonable expectations, your teen may feel you don’t care about him or her.

Communication is key

The teen years often are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviours. Don’t avoid the subjects of sex and drugs, alcohol, or tobacco use. Discussing tough topics openly with kids before they’re exposed to them actually makes it more likely that they’ll act responsibly when the time comes. Share your family values with your teen and talk about what you believe is right and wrong, and why.

Know your child’s friends — and know their friends’ parents. Regular communication between parents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all teens in a peer group.

Look out for these warning signs

A certain amount of change is normal during the teen years. But too drastic or long-lasting a switch in personality or behaviour may signal real trouble. Watch for these warning signs:

  • extreme weight gain or loss
  • sleep problems
  • rapid, drastic changes in personality
  • sudden change in friends
  • skipping school often
  • falling grades
  • talk or even jokes about suicide
  • signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
  • run-ins with the law

Any other inappropriate behaviour that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your teen’s behaviour or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn’t suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn’t suddenly become constantly withdrawn.

Privacy

To help your teen become a young adult, you’ll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your child’s privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it’s a good idea to back off.  In other words, your teenager’s room, texts, e-mails, and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn’t expect your teen to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where teens are going, when they’ll be returning, what they’re doing, and with whom, but you don’t need to know every detail.

Trust

Tell your teen that you trust him or her, but if the trust gets broken, he or she will enjoy fewer freedoms until it’s rebuilt.

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