My top 10 tips for parenting teenagers

We have three teenagers in our house, currently aged 19, 16 and 14. You may have noticed that I do not write so much about teenagers on the blog any more. This has been a conscious decision. Teenagers are incredibly private and blogs are incredibly public.

I have always been very mindful about how much I share of the kids’ lives on the blog. My aim with the blog has always been to share my lessons (generally earned pretty hard) on family life so others can learn from my experiences. When putting a post together I want to be able to share some details so other families can relate to the situation.

As the kids have grown older and moved deep into teenage years, I have learnt many, many, many lessons. I have made a significant number of mistakes, just as the teenagers have made a significant amount of mistakes as they are growing up. Making mistakes is a natural and needed part of teenage years – this is how they learn, self correct and experience the reality of life.

But these mistakes and other parts of teenage life are things that I cannot share on the blog. I have received many emails of late from long term readers who also have teenagers asking me questions about experiences with alcohol, drugs, late nights, relationships etc. Over the last five years our family has had experiences with all of these things but to preserve the relationships I have with my teenagers, relationships that I cherish, they need to know that their experiences, even my take on them, do not end up here on the blog.

I can understand that as a reader this maybe frustrating as there isn’t much out there in terms of how to manage these things from a parent’s perspective from someone who is “in the trenches” and believe me I have looked! But I can understand why. Teenagers need their privacy and parents need to respect that.

Many of you asked a question about teenagers in the end of year survey for me to answer which, I am sorry I won’t be able to answer. But today I thought I would share what I consider to be my best, very hard earned wisdom in general terms about parenting teenagers.

I wish I could say that I tick this list off every day of the week, but that is not the case. Some days I still nag them because the lack of action from them has driven me crazy. Some days when they are behaving horrendously, I choose to ignore them. Some days I talk way too much and don’t listen enough. And when this happens, when I write my gratitude journal at the end of the day and I have to note what I could have done to made my day better, it will be I wish that I had nurtured the kids, not nagged them. It will be that I wished I had been the adult and showed more compassion to the teenager. It will be that I should have said less to the teenager and let them get what was on their chest off it.

So please read these tips, knowing that this is what I strive for. This is what I know works and what I wish I did 100% of the time. As a parent in the trenches, I know the reality of doing these every single day, is hard but it is very much worth the effort if I can do it, so I will keep trying.

My top 10 tips for parenting teenagers

In no particular order they are:

1.Don’t take it personally.

I have written a whole blog post on this tip as I think it is so important. In brief the reality is that teenagers can say very mean things and behave very poorly. While I don’t condone their behaviour, I have learnt that taking it personally doesn’t help. They very often say things they don’t mean, they speak without thinking through what they are saying and their responses are often based off pure emotion! This is where knowledge comes into play. The more we understand what our teenagers are going through, the better we can understand their behaviour. You can read my full post here – Parenting teenagers – not taking it personally.

2. Nurture not nag.

I never thought I would be a nagging mum, but after watching inaction from the teenagers, I would hear myself nagging at them. Teenagers really don’t like being nagged and I don’t like the sound of myself nagging either. Nurturing them not nagging them doesn’t mean that they are allowed to get away without living up to their responsibilities but it means I handle their inaction differently.

I found the tips from the book Spoonfed Generation very helpful in terms of how I can react. You can read my full review of the book here, but here is the part of the book that related most to this tip:

My two favourite chapters in the book were “Manage like a cat” and “Nurture like a dog”.  Michael describes cats as being self contained and very controlled. To parent independent kids we need to be like cats and learn to manage our own reactions, rather than over react, repeat ourselves or shout at the kids.

When it comes to the dog, it is the nurturing side of parenting. Michael notes that our dog side needs to see us being approachable, conversational and relationship building. He has a fantastic tip in this chapter to help parents access their dog nature

Stand up, put your hands out with your palms up and speak. You should notice a big difference in how you deliver your message from when you spoke with your palms facing down.

I have also written a post on this topic too – Nurture rather than nag.

3. When they are behaving at their worst, it is often when they need you the most.

A couple of weeks ago I shared a post on the PWK Facebook Page about teenagers called The Negative Voices in Your Teenager’s Head from the Psychology today. I had read the article after a particularly trying time with one of the teenagers and it made me cry. It made other parents of teenagers cry too and resonated with many more, being shared over 300 times. This was the stand out line to me and advice I keep reminding myself of:

Don’t give up on me. Don’t hate me back. I need you to be stronger than me. I need you to be my parent, even though I say I don’t want one. I need you to be more patient than I can be, more understanding, more accepting.

Even when I am yelling at you, even when I tell you that I hate you, I still need you to love me.” {source}

You can see the facebook post and comments from other parents here.

4. Each teenager is different, adjust your parenting style to suit.

All three teenagers in our house have different personalities and while as a parent I aim for parity and equality with the kids, the reality is that I need to tweak and adjust how I parent each child. It isn’t about letting one get away with more than the other, but it is about learning from my previous mistakes and taking into account the personality of the child involved and how to get the best out of the current situation.

5. Let them have the last word.

I was given this tip from a friend early on in my parenting teenager journey and this is one where when I do it, it makes life better for everyone and when I insist on having the last word, it never ends well. I wrote about this piece of advice on the blog about five years ago saying:

Maria had some great advice that she had picked up the year before at a presentation at her daughter’s school. She said that teenagers at this age (14) want to do one of two things when it comes to having a discussion with them:

They want to either have the last word or be the loudest.

And I have found this to be so true. In discussions where I was talking with him about something he has (or hasn’t) done, I had noticed that they would go on for such a long time, for what really should have been a very short conversation. I had been falling into the trap of engaging in further discussion when it wasn’t needed because I would want to respond to his last word.

Now I am listening to his last word, but letting him have it. Most of the time there is absolutely no need for me to respond to what he is saying – responding is just being drawn back in to debate or talking semantics of my request, which he just needs to get on and do.

Similarly with the loudness. I had also fallen into the trap of increasing my volume to his. Our discussion are so much better when I remain calm and use a quieter voice. It prevents the complete ramp up in our conversations that had been happening.

6. Make them do household tasks.

Doing household tasks are beneficial for teenagers. It makes them realise that there is no such thing as a clean up fairy and that it takes a lot of work to keep a house running smoothly. It teaches them responsibility and independence skills which are vital for them to be able to mature into adults. It can however, be easy to fall into the trap of avoiding asking teenagers to do household tasks for three key reasons:

  1. They complain so much about having to do tasks – not many people love doing household tasks. Complaining loudly and strongly is a strategy often used by teenagers to wear down parents so they won’t be asked to do it again because they make it such an ordeal. This is where as parents we need to remember point 5 – let them have the last word. Let them complain, whinge, shout about it, but let them do them. It is good for them!
  2. They do the tasks so poorly – there can be a few reasons that teenagers do tasks poorly, but I have found it is either because I haven’t spent time teaching them properly how to do the task or they do it poorly so they think I won’t ask them to do it again. If I have shown them how to do the task properly, then I just recall the teenager and make them do it to a standard that we have agreed upon. This does come with more complaining, but eventually they work out that it would have been quicker to just do it properly in the first place.
  3. They have a heavy school work load – once they get to the higher end of secondary school the work load certainly does increase. But the reality is that they still do have time to do a few things around the house. I may give them a slight reprieve during exam week, but my expectation is that they are still to do their tasks at other times. They do know they can come and talk to me if they are having issues and at the start of the weekend I will remind them of what needs to be done and that they need to factor it into their plans for the weekend.

7. Apologise when you get it wrong.

In one of my first posts on teenagers on the blog I wrote:

I feel I am back in parenting 101 with my first teenager now. I didn’t for one minute think I had the parenting gig completely sorted, but having done the rounds a couple of times of the different age groups, I was certainly comfortable with my parenting for these ages and stages.

Not so for my parenting of the teenager. And he is a good kid. He is just kid who is testing the boundaries, looking to explore his world, forming his own views and opinions and fairly regularly driving me crazy with attitude and behaviour.

Now onto our third teenager I made many changes to how I parent and I have had many conversations with our eldest and sympathised with him that can be tough being the eldest as I learn what I am doing as a parent! I have also apologised for when I made things harder for him than they needed to be.

I also apologise real time if I respond without calm and grace. I will take time out and think about what happened and then seek out the relevant teenager and apologise to them. I have also learnt that it is important to apologise fully. And that means not adding a “but” to my apology. It is easy to say “I’m sorry I shouted at you, but you were being so rude.” The but is transferring blame back onto the teenager and reduces significantly the impact of the apology. It is also creating an excuse for my behaviour. As rude as they may have been, I should have dealt with it better, so my apology needs to full and genuine.

8. Be prepared to change your boundaries.

Similarly to the above point about apologising for getting it wrong, I now accept that as I set boundaries for new and different stages of teenage years, I might not set them right the first time. I need to listen to the kids and understand the impact my boundaries have on them. Many times the boundaries are spot on and there is just natural teenage push back going on, but other times with the right intention I have made them too tight and I need to be more flexible.

When this happens, I will chat with the teenager involved and link my change in boundary to their ability to calmly articulate why they needed to change. I want them to know that I am reasonable and flexible, but to get a positive response I expect them to act likewise.

9. Be the taxi.

There have been many Friday and Saturday nights where I have gone to bed, set an alarm, only to wake up a few hours later to go and pick up one of the teenagers. I usually take our Tarago and am happy to drive home as many other teenagers as I can fit in our 8 seater. There are other parents who we swap this duty with which is great, as it means I don’t have to do it every weekend, but I am actually glad to have the opportunity to do it.

It has been a great way for me to meet their friends, to understand a little more about what goes on in their social life, it lets them know I am interested and care about what they do and it does make them think through their actions when they are out if they know it is me or another mum they know who is picking them up.

The teenagers also know that when they are out, if they ever need to they can call us and we will come and get them no questions asked asap (we have said we will talk about the other stuff at a later time). This has been used before and I am sure it will be used again. I think it is important for them to know that our biggest priority is there safety and well being and that we can react calmly in times of need.

10. Acknowledge their strengths.

When you have someone constantly pushing the boundaries, it can sometimes be hard to see the good things they do! And there are many great things teenagers do, we just need to make sure that we don’t let emotions from harder moments over shadow everything they do. I try to work with the mindset of catching them doing the right thing. A few years ago I wrote this about one of the teenagers:

And he does do great things and he is helpful to me:

  • He is at an age now where I can leave the younger kids with him for short periods of time, which is super helpful.
  • When I am going out with the other kids and he is going to be home, he will ask me what he can do while I am away.
  • He will run errands for me when asked.
  • He is also very funny. I enjoy his sense of humour and wit.

I need to make sure I let him know these things on a regular basis. The positive to negative comments ratio (5:1)needs to improve on my behalf and will definitely be the focus for the next month.

You can read my full post on this topic here – Parenting Tips For Teenagers Vol 5 – Acceptance and Acknowledge.

For all their hard work, teenagers are gorgeous creatures. They make me laugh, they make my heart swell with pride and I love them fiercely. Our relationships are always much better if I can implement the strategies above, so for that reason, I keep on trying.

What tips would you add for parenting teenagers?