“Enjoy them now, this is the easy bit.”
Oh how you could have wrung her neck. What did she know? How could it possibly get harder than this?
Welcome to the teenage years.
The teen years are tough. They are relentless. The sleepless nights, the back end of the fights, the constant rejection, the lack of interest, the dejection.
And thats just us! The teen years are tough on our offspring too.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as we muddle through this decade of teenage-dom. If we can keep any of these in mind it might just help us (and them) come out alive.
You don’t count.
We can get lost in the mental dialogue that convinces us that we have raised a spoilt, entitled monster that quite frankly has no idea how to behave or even be a part of functioning society.
Here’s the thing. This monster who lives in your four walls is more often than not the knight in shining armour at number 78 down the road at the Jacobs place.
When your child is round at their house, the dishwasher is neatly loaded, questions are topped and tailed with please and thank you, and he/she has even managed to help one of their kids with their year three comprehension paper.
You see our teens save their most disagreeable behaviour for us.
We are their safe space.
Simply put. How they behave at home is not what the rest of the world experiences with regards to your teen.
This does not mean to say they shouldn’t be reminded constantly to pick up after themselves or that we should drop all expectations that our teen should help in the running of the home, because they should. But we don’t have to make everything the lesson to correct, resulting in bickering, slammed doors and eye rolling.
We don’t have to jump on every sarcastic comment, we don’t have to have a row and clamp down every time a wash isn’t loaded or the siblings start throwing shoes at each other.
These things are not symptoms of a delinquent, of your own personal Frankenstein creation.
You are simply living with a teenager.
It’s not rejection, it’s redirection.
Living with a teenager can feel like one long power struggle, and you’re losing.
It can be so very heartbreaking and rejecting for us parents. Our once innocent child who hung off our every word, who looked at us with loving eyes and clung to us with little hands, trusting us implicitly; Now just wants to get as far away from you as possible.
There is however a plausible explanation for this.
When our children get to a certain age they are ready to develop and become their own person. To know their own minds, To have their own thoughts, beliefs and ideas.
The only way they can really do that is to actively reject pretty much all of yours.
They need to spend some years literally living in direct opposition to you so that they can create their own sense of self.
So when you feel hurt, rejected and exacerbated by your teens constant challenge, sarcasm, kick back and arguing, try to remember this;
They are not rejecting you, they’re redirecting themselves.
It is a big deal to them.
Whether it’s the guy who hasn’t phoned. The party they weren’t invited to, The football league they didn’t make it into or the miscommunication they had with a friend that suggests they will never speak again!
So much happens in the life of our teens and EVERYTHING is the biggest thing ever.
It can be exhausting from our perspective. We know that guy wasn’t “the one” and the party was a dime a dozen. We also know that friends fight and make up, and next seasons football league is another story.
We know that it’s all part of learning to be an adult…. In retrospect. As adults.
In this knowing we can be quick to downplay or dismiss what is in fact earth shatteringly important for our teens in this moment.
Our flippancy can feel deeply like they are not being seen or heard or taken seriously.
No one likes to see their child struggle so it seems natural to try and shimmy our teens on. To “help” them let go. Not make a big deal. Tell them to get over it.
We as parents can see the bigger picture and we don’t want them to dwell on what is so obviously not a big deal or life or death situation.
What we forget is that it feels like life or death to them.
To create some common ground just imagine how you would feel if the contract you had spent three months working on and was going to pay for next years trip to Turks and Caicos fell through? How would you react to being told it was no big deal? Or being told to simply “forget about it”?
Or what if you weren’t invited to your best friends 50th. Would you not feel an ounce of betrayal? Would you not question if you had become a social pariah or feel ostracised from a group you thought you should feel safe with?
What I’m highlighting here is that even if we can see the bigger picture from where we stand, it is the whole world in their view.
To sit with them in their confusion, sadness, feeling of being let down, or in their fear of rejection, isn’t dwelling. It’s not indulging.
It is showing them that you get it. That it’s ok to feel like your world has shattered and that you are there to help them put the pieces back together.
We could all use support like that.
They have to f**k up to grow up.
If we are being “good” parents then we must make sure that no harm comes to our little wallflowers.
There is of course some truth to this. We should definitely do our best to keep them alive. Keep them away from open flames, railway tracks and duel carriageways.
But this generation of parents have taken things too far.
Whether it’s stepping into the feud to dispel friendship bust ups. Calling the tennis coach to talk them into rethinking their sons position on the B team or scrambling to finish some maths homework that, well, certainly isn’t yours to finish.
We are doing too much. We are saving our teens time and time again in the hope that we can love them into taking some responsibility for their lives.
Let me make this clear here and now. That won’t happen. No one in their right mind is going to pick up the slack if someone has already done it.
In fact, we are teaching our precious young ones that not only do they not need to rely on themselves, but very often they begin to doubt they can trust themselves to take action at all. “If someone else always does it for me, maybe I’m not capable of doing it myself”?
What we think we are doing to be good parents is in fact detrimental to their own development and growth.
To be truly “good” parents we need to take a step back. Let them stumble and fall so that they can learn that they have the power to get back up.
Falling on deaf ears.
Your child cannot hear you when you shout and scream at them.
When we humans feel under any kind of threat our logical brain (our limbic brain) shuts down. In fact all the blood that is pumping through this part of the brain get pulled to our limbs and our heart to facilitate the strength our body needs to physically exit the said threatening situation and save ourselves.
Now you may well not be the lion that could rip your teen to shreds in the face of them breaking curfew, smoking drugs or illegally borrowing the car, but the attack of raised voices and shouting means that they cannot take in any of what you are saying.
They simply shut down. All they can process is anger and how to get away from it, aka, you.
At best you may be met with their reactive response to such an outburst. This might look like them screaming back at you with similar ferocity, or at worst them storming out the room or house and ignoring you completely.
If you really want to stay connected to your teens through these push and pull years, the best way to maintain this is through calm reflection and realistic consequences.
Amiee works with 1:1 clients and she runs programmes to help parents create deeper, lasting connection with their children.