“It’s not you, it’s me.” A fairly well known phrase, generally for relationship break ups, but this post about parenting teenagers, take this very philosophy. In my first post on parenting teenagers, I wrote mainly about the behaviour of our eldest son (14 years old). This month I have been thinking more about my behaviour; what am I doing that is working and what am I doing that is obviously not working.
What is working
Choosing my battles – some days I could be talking to him all the time about what he should or should not be doing. It reminds me a bit of the toddler stage, where you choose the key behaviours you want to focus on and let the lesser ones go. Too much of my voice and he switches off and I am getting better at recognising when this is happening and keeping my comments for the most important issues.
Acknowledgement and encouragement – when there are so many things to “discuss”, it can be easy to forget to acknowledge the positive things, the achievements and the hard work he does. While I haven’t been regularly hitting the 5:1 ratio of positive statements to negative statements, I have certainly improved and am being more conscious about it. Sometimes internally I think he should just do it without me acknowledging or thanking him for it (like I do for him), but it does seem to really make a difference to his demeanour and willingness to help out.
Clear arrangements – master 14 is the master of shades of grey, to what I will clearly see as black and white. We have had many, many discussions over what constitutes having your school gear ready in the evening and how much and when technology can be used. After the new school term started with a number of these discussions, I sat with him, came to agreement on what the defined black and white arrangements are for this term. It covered off what has to happen each night before he starts technology, what happens if he doesn’t do it and what happens if there are breaches. We both signed it and it is stuck on the fridge for easy referral. There was still one area which he later went on to find some grey! We have tightened this up and having clear arrangements has stopped a lot of the disagreement between us.
More individual time – When it comes to weekend sport, it tends to be me with the younger kids and dad with the older kids. I hadn’t seen a game of master 14’s touch rugby all season. I really enjoyed the opportunity last week to drive him to his game, watch him play, meet people he has spoken about and then chat more on the way home. He has also starting debating this term and I chose to take him to his debate as well. I need to make sure I continue to do this with greater regularity.
What has not been working
Being too verbose – I need to be more concise with what I say and not repeat myself. When particularly frustrated with him, I will often repeat my key message, it different words, but essentially say the same thing to him more than once. This pretty much seems to drive him crazy and the conversation switches from his behaviour to me “going on and on about it”. I need to not let him have that opportunity to talk about me “going on”. Rather than repeating myself, I just need to ask him if he understands and leave it at that.
Invading his privacy – they are of course his words and as much as I don’t like it when he says it to me, there is an element of truth to it. While he and his brother who he shares a room with vacuum their room once a week, I often will vacuum it mid week to freshen it up. Often this is when they are at school and I will move things about, generally into a pile in the middle of the floor, so I can vacuum. Often this uncovers items that should not be in the room, mainly junk food and the like. This has in the past made me open his drawers and see what else may be around that should not be there. I have found this tricky to navigate – I see my role as parent ensuring he eats well, yet I know that he does deserve some privacy as well.
So along with our agreement on homework, technology etc, I have agreed not to go through his drawers etc. He has agreed not to take food into his room. I have agreed to stop “going on” about the food he buys. If his room has a smell though, I can ask him to go through his room and find the smell and remove it. If the cause is food he has purchased elsewhere, he must donate the dollar value of that food to a donation box we have at home for Project Compassion. We are only a couple of weeks into this and while far from perfect, there has been a significant drop in tension over this issue.
Forgetting what is age appropriate – when the kids are little, especially the first one or two, as a parent you tend to read a lot about what development and behaviour is appropriate for that stage. Teenage years to me seem very similar. It is such a period of great change, that it helps to know what is within the realms of “normal”. I am also trying to remember more of what I did at that age. And yes I went through a phase of buying my fair share of junk food, told some white lies to keep myself out of trouble and was pretty self absorbed. I need to remember this more and think about what is normal, when he has done something that I think is out of line. Bringing broader perspective to the situation will be helpful.
Writing these posts has actually been an incredibly helpful process, as it makes me take stock and reflect on what it is like parenting a teenager. I often say that he is taking up most of my emotional energy, but I also love seeing that he is starting to mature, develop his sharp wit and form opinions of his own. Amongst the work of parenting, I think it is so important to enjoy it – to spend time together, too laugh and enjoy each others’ company.
What have you learnt about parenting (teenagers otherwise) this month?