Getting it wrong

Parenting teenagers can be a tricky business. Our oldest child will be 19 at the end of the month, so I have been parenting teenagers now for almost six years.

You might think that with so much experience that I have the parenting teenager game down pat, but I don’t. I still find it challenging and I am still making plenty of mistakes.

So today I thought, to provide some comfort to other parents of teenagers, I would share a selection of things I have got wrong over the last few years:

  • Being too restrictive – Years ago a Montessori teacher shared with me an analogy about setting boundaries for kids and a river. If the riverbanks are too narrow,  the river bursts over the banks. If the riverbanks are too wide, the river keeps spreading until it hits the banks. Kids need boundaries and as parents we need to find the balance of giving them enough room to explore but within boundaries to keep them safe. I have had the riverbanks too narrow a few times, particularly over access to technology which caused more issues than the use of technology was.
  • Being too lenient – Trying to learn from the above mistake, I allowed the boundaries to be a little too wide on some areas, which wasn’t helpful. While not the sole cause, it did lead to the child making poor choices. We have both learnt from the consequences of this.
  • Talking too much – If you were to ask my older two boys what is one of my biggest faults, it would be that I can talk too much to try and impress a point upon them. I am getting better at working out that saying it once is enough, but there are times when out of utter frustration I repeat myself or come back to an issue because I really want them to understand the impact it has had. The reality is that this does not work and it actually causes them to deflect away from their behaviour and focus on my behaviour of “going on” about stuff all the time.
  • Talking too little – There are times when I have become so frustrated with their behaviour/s that I keep conversations with them to the bare minimum. This really isn’t helpful in resolving the situation. Often there is more to the behaviour that I am finding frustrating than can be seen on the surface level. The only way to find out what is really going on is to talk to them.
  • Expecting too much for their age – I am a very different person now than what I was in my teenage years. Teenage me was completely disorganised, eternally late for everything, self absorbed and fiscally irresponsible. As I have spent a great deal of time and effort working with the kids to teach them planning and organisational skills, I often expect more of this to be reflecting in the way they manage themselves. Realistically though, they are teenage boys who while they have learnt and taken on some of what I have taught them, are behaving like pretty standard teenage boys. With my expectations too high, I can be frustrated when the gap between my expectations and performance is vast. I need to be more realistic with my expectations.
  • Not expecting enough for their age – Sometimes to keep the peace with the teenagers, I end up doing things for them that they are completely capable of doing for themselves. Teenagers are very happy to have things done for them and I can end up trapping myself with more work through this.

You may have noticed that I have made mistakes on both end of the spectrum on key issues of boundaries, communication and expectations. Upon reflection I think this is because the line between each side of the issue is so hazy, so dependant upon many other factors at the time and the personality of the child, that it is a matter of constantly evaluating circumstances before making decisions or interacting with the teenagers.

I do take heart that as time goes on I making less mistakes and getting better at finding the line I need to take. Lucky I have two more teenagers to come – I might start to get it right by the end of it!

Are you parenting teenagers? What do you find you get wrong?

Photo by Jesús Rodríguez on Unsplash