Reader questions - teenagers

Reader questions – teenagers

Reader questions - teenagers

Today’s post answers reader questions on the topic of parenting issues. You can read previous answers to readers’ questions here.


As I noted last week, when answering reader questions I try to offer up as many helpful tips that I can from my 22 years of parenting. But I am not a parenting expert, child psychologist, or qualified counselor. My answers are for information and entertainment purposes, please make sure you seek out relevant professional advice if you have parenting issues that are causing you and your family distress.

I don’t write much about teenagers on the blog. If you have a teenager you will know how fiercely they guard their privacy. Their stories are not mine to tell. They are in a huge developmental period. The last thing they need is for me to be talking in a public forum about what is going on in their lives. So there are many questions about teenagers I can’t answer as I want to keep my kids lives’ private. I have however, gathered a selection of teenager focused questions to which I can give some generic answers that revolve more around how I act as a parent. I hope you find them helpful.

How can I stop a teenage boy from disrespecting me and thinking he has the better brain/solutions/point of view?

There is no doubt that I have found our teenagers and will continue to find our teenagers challenging at times. We have always encouraged healthy discussion in our house and my husband and I do our best to role model this ourselves when we have issues of contention. Role modeling the behaviours you want to see in your teenagers is by far the biggest thing I think you can do to encourage your teens to behave in a respectful manner. With that said, teens are pretty self-absorbed. This quote from Dr. Laura Markham describes teens very well:

All teenagers are in a developmental stage that could be seen as self-centered and insecure. Their work is to develop themselves, which means that they’re so focused on themselves that they don’t have a lot of mental energy left to notice how they’re affecting others, even if they’re actually empathic people. They greatly value their peers, so they put peers first, and it is easy for parents to feel like their teen doesn’t even notice the parent’s feelings. All teens are still figuring out a realistic assessment of their capabilities and where they fit in the world. All of them are still developing good judgment and tend to be in denial about risk.

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I have two key pieces of advice for parents who have teens going through this stage. I focus on what parents can do, as the reality is we can really only control our own behaviour:

  • Let them have the last word – a very smart mum told me many years ago when I was having some challenges with our first teenager, that teens want to have the loudest or the last word – sometimes both together! As a parent we need to realise we are in one of those situations and realise they are not in a place where a rational discussion can be had. While we may be in the right or may know the correct answer, it is not the time to have the last word and push home the fact that this is the case, the teen is very unlikely to budge. We need to let it go. If we feel we can’t let it go completely due to safety or other reasons, let them have the last word and find another time well after the situation when they are calm and discuss it with them again then.
  • Don’t take it personally – I have said this before on the blog, but as hard as it is to listen to when they are saying unkind or untrue things, they are most likely speaking with hot emotion. It is pretty unlikely that they mean all of the things they say, so don’t take it personally. When a toddler is having a tantrum and is crying and yelling at you, you don’t take it personally and you know their emotions have overcome them, it is pretty similar with a teenager.

Hang in there with your teen if they are going through this phase. Keep loving them, keep showing them your love and know that they will come out of this phase. I have written a whole post on taking it personally which you can find by clicking here.

How do I teach my 15 year old self-discipline, get him to care about homework and develop a good work ethic, if he hasn’t got it yet???

It can be very difficult to watch a disorganised teen and a teen with a casual approach to their school work. Celia Lashlie writes the following in her excellent book He’ll be Ok Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men:

Every bit of information you push into his head before he turns 13 and the testosterone starts to move stays in there and will eventually re-emerge.

Celia Lashlie

I am sure it is the same for girls too. If you have taught them organisation skills – because they do need to be taught to kids, they need to know how to schedule their time, make plans, time block, use a diary/calendar and rid themselves of distractions, even if they aren’t doing them all now, know that they are still in there.

I have made plenty of mistakes in the past trying to micromanage and cajole teens to be organised and work harder. I was coming from the right place and I was trying very hard but it just didn’t work. It often made things worse. It caused fights between us and plenty of frustration on both sides.

Now I take a more measured approach. I provide guidance where needed. If I notice not much homework has been done over the weekend and it is now Sunday lunchtime, I will mention it calmly and leave it up to the child to work out what they will do next. I discuss with each child what my expectations are with regard to school work – they are different for each child as they all have had differing abilities. All I ask of them is that they work to their abilities.

You can read more about He’ll be Ok Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men here in my book review.

How to stay connected with Tween and Teen boys – I want them to be able to share with me if they need to as they get older?

I have learnt that it is almost impossible to make a teenager share when they don’t want to. Some of our kids naturally share more with me than others even though they have been nurtured in pretty much the same way. I have found that how much they share is really dependant upon their personality. The best I can do is keep engaged with them and create opportunities for them to share. For us this looks like:

  • Finding a common point of interest with each child that is unique to that child. For me this has meant learning new things, listening to podcasts I wouldn’t normally listen to and being open-minded on points of view. It doesn’t mean I start invading their space in this activity but it means I can ask relevant questions, show genuine interest and bring up talking points. Keeping them talking with you on topics they care about is a great way to keep the communication channel open. It can give you reference points for advice and it shows you are taking genuine interest in their life.
  • Finding non-intense one on one time. You most likely have heard the advice about having chats with teens in the car when you are driving them somewhere. It is smart advice. It can be much easier to have a chat about important issues in an environment where they can look out the window as they talk or can change the subject easily by changing the radio station! This can be a time when you can ask them some gentle questions if you are worried about them.
  • Being the night time taxi. Having a Tarago means that we can fit a lot of kids in the car to drop home at the end of a night out. It can mean late nights – many times I have gone to bed before 9pm and set an alarm to get up at 11.30pm to pick kids up, but I have found it to be worth the effort. Not only do you get to meet and know their friends but once they have all l been dropped off, you have time to talk with them on your way home. After a good night out they are generally in a happy mood and more talkative.

How to strengthen connections with teenagers, when they are disengaged from family life?

Again, as in the above question, how engaged a teen, especially an older teen is with family life is very personality dependant. There are a few things I have done to try and keep them as connected as I can:

  • I still insist on family dinner time. If you are in the house at dinner time, you need to come to the table even if you are not eating. There are of course the occasional exceptions but for the most part this happens. Sometimes they will arrive at the table in a terrible mood because they do not want to come. However in pretty much most cases, they thaw out and leave the table in a better mood than when they came. You can read more details about this in my post – Why I still insist on family dinner time.
  • Advance warning on non-negotiable family events. As the kids get older I have had to accept that getting all of them to come to every family event we have is not going to happen. There are certain events that I will deem non-negotiable that I will want them to come along to, so I try to give them as much notice as possible about these. For other family events, I will let them know they are on and ask them if they want to come – they have the choice to come or not. I like them to make the choice so they feel some control over the events they come to. By not insisting they come to everything, it means when I do want them to come, I get less resistance.
  • Value their strengths. When teens are driving you slightly crazy it can be easy to focus on all the negatives, but teens are also pretty great people on a good day! It is important to really acknowledge and value their strengths and the contribution they make to the family. If teens feel like they can’t do anything right, they are more likely to check out and feel like it isn’t worth trying. Looking for the positives and encouraging them in a positive manner on areas that need work can help them stay more connected. You can read more about this philosophy in my post Nurture rather than nag.

Once a child leaves school, do you still pay pocket money? What things do they pay for themselves from their job? And do they pay their own HECS (or Victorian equivalent)

Pocket money stops once the kids leave secondary school. We have things we will pay for to support their education like books, public transport etc, but the kids are going through or have been through university using HECS. The kids have had casual jobs so are expected to pay for their own clothes, entertainment and their phone bill. They don’t pay board or utility bills. We pay for Spotify, one of the older kids pays for Netflix and another has paid for Disney+. I am really proud of how our older kids have worked/are working through university and saving money as they go. While they live at home still, they are independent and contribute to the family and are growing up to be fine young men.

Some last words

If you are in the depths of testing teenage behaviour, do your best to be calm and consistent. Be firm but fair where needed as they push the boundaries. They are still finding themselves, so nurture them and know that they will move through this phase!

Thanks so much to all the lovely readers who left these questions for me in the PWK survey.

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