Do you feel like you’re just surviving this job of parenting a teen? Perhaps you’re not quite there yet, and the thought of having a mini version of yourself yelling at you and ignoring your rules has you terrified.
I want to present a different image of the teenage years. Not one of dread and hassle, but one of change and growth. The transformation of your child into an adult that, yes will at times be rocky and a bit messy, but at other times will be filled with pure joy.
The key to success is staying focused on the end goal: a great relationship with your young adult who’s equipped with all the life skills they need to forge their own path.
Here are five myths I think can scare any parent off the teenage years that need debunking.
Myth 1: Teenagers don’t talk, they grunt and slam doors
Like all myths, there is an element of truth to this one. Teenagers do tend to be thrifty with their words, but that doesn’t mean they don’t talk. In their careful use of their words, they tend to save them up for people who will listen and not lecture, and who show them respect. There are times that teens will have long conversations, telling you the sort of stories you used to hear when they were young, with colourful descriptions of the characters within the saga. It’s just about being present for those times and responding in a way that invites the sharing.
From my intense study of teenagers, I think this communication trend is wrapped up in the bigger issue of working out who they are. And for most teens, they’re keen to ensure they’re not anything like their parents so for a while they will push you away to prove that. As they get a better idea of who they are though, they tend to accept you again, as not being quite so distasteful.
If you have a teen going through a silent phase, the point is not to hassle them for not talking to you. You might make a light joke when you can see the shutters coming down, but let them walk off and be grateful for the words you have received. If the conversations you do have are getting heated, or the ignoring phase is carrying on longer than you like, have a look at the strategies I suggested in my article on what to do when your teen hates you.
Myth 2: Teenagers are irresponsible and selfish
In the first year or two as a teen, there does seem to be some synapse trimming happening that means they sometimes forget to do something that they ordinarily would do and somehow that’s your fault, not theirs. Teenagers though, can be very responsible if they’re given an opportunity to develop their decision-making skills, independence and confidence over time.
There are some fundamentals parents need to make sure are in place before a child enters the teen years if they’re wanting to enjoy life with a responsible teenager, but it’s important for us all to remember that just like someone learning to ride a bike is going to have falls, teenagers are going to make mistakes as they work towards their adult self. As parents, it’s our role to be their mountain guide on this trip, pointing out the safest route, but accepting that they might sometimes choose a different one to us.
I think it’s a myth that teens are selfish, but rather see them as self-centred. Selfishness is about personal gain, where being self-centred is more about neglecting others because they are caught up with themselves. It’s a thoughtlessness rather than an intentional act to put their needs first. Self-centredness is best dealt with in relationship, through great modeling and calling it out when the occasion needs it. Just do that in a quiet and respectful manner so it’s not a source of public humiliation.
Myth 3: Teenagers are moody
We have come to accept the portrayal of teenagers as temperamental, grumpy beings, but I doubt they have any more moods than everyone else. It’s just that they have large doses of hormones racing round in their bodies that tend to amplify those moods. So when they are angry, grumpy, cheerful or silly, they tend to do that in a larger-than-life way.
The teen years seem to be when people first really start having residual emotional responses to their circumstances and experiences. Think about when kids are little, they tend to recover quickly from issues in their world, and are definitely back in the game the next morning when they get up. But that’s not really how most of us operate. We can have a gloomy outlook for a few days or a couple of weeks when life is stressful. Teenagers are making this transition, so it’s more about us adjusting to a change and accepting that they are going to move between being upbeat, down and somewhere in between, just like we do.
There is an aspect of the teenager years that does mean sometimes you can end up with more miserable days than cheerful ones. Teens seem to have a natural tendency to look at the negatives first and have a glass half-full approach to life. One of the jobs as a parent is to help them develop a sense of positivity and optimism, which is a topic I’ll tackle in an upcoming article.
Myth 4: Teenagers are easily influenced by their friends
I heard a teacher say years ago, when social media was just starting, than the problem with kids having phones is that during the holidays they used to reset their moral compass because they had less contact with their friends and tended to get realigned to their family’s values. I’m not sure what that teacher would say today, where the influence of friends is across many platforms and young people develop different types of friendships than the personal ones most adults experienced in their teen years.
There are three things that have made our current teens very savvy when it comes to influence:
- Broader connections. Teens today don’t just hang out with three or four kids all the time. They mix with older friends, cousins, friends of friends and even celebrities and idols on Facebook and Instagram in a far more real way than those of us raised in the pre-social media age could ever have imagined. This makes a melting pot of influence; both good and bad.
- Critical thinking skills. A big focus of our schools for the last 15 years or so has been to develop critical thinking skills. These are those skills that question and pull things apart, that look for reasons why something works or doesn’t work, and dig deeper into the assumptions behind what we do. While our teens are still developing these skills, it’s created a level of skepticism that makes them question things far more readily than previous generations would have.
- Global and instant media. It’s incredible to think that 100 years ago during World War I it took weeks for the official news of deaths and injuries to reach the families back home, yet today we can see images of things happening right now around the world, recorded from hundreds of different perspectives. With so many storytellers, and so many stories, our teens are developing discernment skills much quicker than other generations have. I think that’s why they don’t tend to vote in a manner the major political parties can harness, and are far more issues-driven than ever before.
So if you’re teen is currently in with a wrong crowd or lost in a world of influence, get them to activate their critical thinking and discernment skills. Have a conversation about what they like about these friends, what other friends or people in general say about them, and how that fits with the picture of themselves. Given some time, most teens will see through their own poor choices when it comes to letting people influence them.
Myth 5: Teenagers need a different style of parenting
The one thing teenagers need is consistency. I wrote previously about the best style of parenting for all kids is the authoritative approach, where parents have firm limits but encourage independence and let those boundaries move out as their child gets older. If you’ve got a good parenting approach working in the primary school years, you’re going to be well set up for the teen years too. Yes the issues will be different, and you’ll still have to think on your feet, but the approach will be the same.
If you want to grow great teenagers, then focus on having clear boundaries, give them space to negotiate changes or exceptions to these, and encourage them to develop their independence by letting the consequences of their choices be their teacher, more than punishments.
Life with teenagers is one of those phases of life that if you get too caught up in the downside can pass by too quickly and all you end up with is an empty nest. I think it’s worth noting that no stage in parenting lasts forever, and the adventure is always worth the trip in the end, so rather than looking at surviving the teenage years, turn your thoughts around to enjoying the end of your little one’s childhood and their transition to being an adult.
What do you think? Are there some other myths about teens that you think should be debunked? I’d love to hear your thoughts.