I think a lot of us imagine that after those first few years of our child’s life that things will get easier and easier. And whilst, in a lot of ways, they do, each phase of our children’s lives come with their own challenges. I’ve invited Jo Mitchelhill of Seasons Coaching to talk to us about the teenager years and ways of coping with teenage experimentation.
Teenagers. You’ve gotta love them! If you are a parent of a teenager, it can be very challenging, and sometimes frightening, time.
Firstly, a little bit about me and my background. I was a teacher for about 20 years and my husband and I were also foster carers for about ten years, predominantly with teenagers who were deemed higher needs kids. They were often children who had been in the system for a long, long time, some of whom had been in twenty plus placements by the time they got to us. We worked very much with the teenagers and had a lot of success, and still have a good relationship with many of them.
During their teenage years, your child will go through an almost brain rewire, like a second toddlerhood where they’re having tantrums, meltdowns, are unable to communicate or find their words. Teenagers are highly curious beings who haven’t yet learned to control their impulses or developed the foresight to realise the consequences of their actions. And as much as they want independence and responsibility, they’re not mature enough to have that in some of the things that they want it in, which then causes tension between you. The more we try and hold on to our kids and the more we try to stop them doing something, the more they’re going to want to do those things and they’re going to rebel against us. That makes it really difficult for us, as adults, who have the foresight to understand the consequences of those actions. We know that if we have three glasses of wine tonight that we’re not going to feel at our best tomorrow; we know that if we don’t get this bit of work done, it’s going to upset the people that have entrusted it to us; we know that we shouldn’t smoke because we’ll get lung cancer.
Pick your battles
Consider how much you need to be worried about what they are doing and how much energy you need to expend on each situation. Will the outcome change by you getting angry about it? That may just cause them to shut down to having a calm conversation about it later on. Think about the reactions your own parents had with you as a teenager and how it made you feel, then ask yourself if that’s the way you would want to react with your own children.
As parents, we must have open and honest conversations with our children – when they will listen. Teenagers will often say things for a shock factor, designed to get a reaction out of you. But if you’re open and honest about sex, alcohol or smoking, for example, you can normalise those topics and take away those opportunities to shock you. Hopefully this will also nurture a safe space between you for them to open up when they have made a mistake. Don’t assume these conversations will go smoothly straight away; it takes time. Your children need to know that you’re genuine and will listen to them.
If you feel too far out of your comfort zone having those conversations with your child, maybe you could ask a friend or family member that they get on really well with and can be that go-to safe person.
Check in with your emotions
When faced with danger, a part of our brain called the amygdala issues an emotional response of fight or flight. Once we’ve realised there’s no immediate danger, the prefontal cortex kicks in to provide our reasoning. These two parts of the brain cannot work concurrently. When our kids come and tell us about something that’s happened, the first response we have will be an emotional response – they’re our kids, we love them and we may be worried, upset or angry. Being aware of this means that we can take a moment to pause and just breathe. Take ten breaths, and if you need to, take ten more, and ten more until you have that moment of realisation that you are capable of dealing with this situation calmly.
It’s a big thing when our kids come to us and want to talk to us about things. And the way we respond to that will shape the relationship we have with them. Now I’m not saying tomorrow sit them down and go ‘tell me all about your life’. If communication is a bit of a sticking point at the moment then just start slowly. Start to show more interest in what’s going on in their life.
One of the biggest fears parents of teens have is drug and alcohol usage and dependency. Now not all teens are going to go through this and not all teens are going to develop a habit. This is one of the areas where it is so important to be open and honest about the effects. Resist the urge to preach about why they are bad – would you have listened? Come from a place of openness and honesty. And also trust your teens’ judgment and give them that safe space to come and talk to you.
Of course if you are seeing signs that are concerning and that could indicate substance abuse such as change of behaviour or appetite, withdrawal from family, new friends etc then seek professional advice and help.
As parents, it’s important for us, too, to have someone safe that we can talk to. Parenting teenagers can be worrying, frustrating and lonely. Speak to non-judgemental friends who you can trust and express your concerns to. It can be very difficult when you are so emotionally invested in your children, to be able to take a step back and really evaluate a situation. Sometimes a cuppa and a chat with your bestie is the safe space you need to renew your energy and look at situations in a different light.
It can be a rocky road when you have a teen but it can also be an amazing adventure.
Jo runs highly successful parenting workshops, offers insightful 1-2-1 coaching, and retreats for parents to help navigate through the world of parenting and create a harmonious home life based on positive parenting strategies. Jo also has a popular facebook group, Parenting without Prejudice, which is a non judgmental community where parents can come and share their challenges and wins. Download her free guide ‘5 Positive Ways to Restore Your Calm’ at www.seasonscoaching.co.uk.