SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Ten things to know about teens

Is 2018 the year your tween becomes a teen? Suzanne Harrington shares her top tips for navigating the hormone-addled minefield. 

So you have kids. Cute, sweet, funny, delightful kids. Not for long, my friend. One day soon they will go into their bedrooms and you will never see them again. Emerging in their place will be a gaggle of gangly, sweary, moody, secretive strangers who no longer want to be seen in public with you, who communicate via grunts and textspeak, who will plough through the contents of your fridge like The Tiger Who Came To Tea, and who will routinely tell you to eff off while demanding cash and slamming a door in your face.

Worry not, for this is all entirely normal.

A metamorphosis is occurring which transforms perfectly nice children into snarling imposters, but this transformation is (hopefully) temporary and, under the right
conditions, glimpses of their original humanity can still be fleetingly observed. However, for the most part, you will soon be sharing your home with kids too cool for school, who
already know everything and cannot be told, who are the embodiment of giant toddlers playing in the traffic. Try not to lose your mind.

1. Don’t take it personally

This is the cornerstone of parenting teens. You can be the most liberal, empathic, down-with-the-kids parent alive, and they will still think you’re an elderly idiot intent on ruining their fun with your stupid demands to eat, sleep, and do homework. It’s nothing personal, so don’t make it about you. Weeping, asking aloud where you have gone wrong, or
begging to let you take them to see Paddington 2 will not improve the situation.

Back off, and accept that they are transitioning through a hormone-addled minefield towards young adulthood. Although you are required to be on hand 24/7 to facilitate their every domestic, financial, and practical need, they’d rather not have to actually talk to you. So just shut up and provide.

2. Boundaries and bribes vs threats and ultimatums

Depending on how bloody-minded or rebellious your emerging young adult is, sentences starting with “if you do/don’t do this, I will [insert threat here]” tend not to work. Some teens will interpret your threats as a challenge; others will weaponise them for later use as grudges to hold against you. Set expectations rather than ultimatums. “I expect you to…” works better than “you had better…”

Draconian is incredibly stressful for all involved, and never works long-term.

Also, there is no parenting situation that cannot be eased with the promise of a crisp tenner. Use positive reinforcement by getting the little beasts to work towards reward. Rather than threatening to confiscate their Xbox or ground them (they will only climb out the window and play Xbox at someone else’s house). This does not, however, mean you need to give them a tenner every time they pick yesterday’s socks off the floor. Don’t be a mug.

3. Screens and social media

Don’t sweat it. Have the porn talk with them, get your ISP to block adult sites from their devices, remove gaming devices from bedrooms midweek to encourage doing homework instead of reaching the next level of zombie apocalypse. Other than that, accept that teens live on Snapchat and Instagram, and they don’t want to be friends with you
online. Resistance is futile. Stop worrying. They’ll be fine.

4. Remain unshockable

Teenagers experiment with everything, just like you did, except these days they are better organised and informed. Also, there are lots of new drugs available, so inform yourself, rather than opting for blissful ignorance. A home environment where they feel they can talk to you about anything without you fainting/crying/calling the guards is helpful — they may not tell you much at all,but being approachable, especially around traditionally illicit areas like sex, drugs, and booze, is more conducive to good communication if and when they need it. And again, set boundaries — being open-minded does not mean you have to accept boozing or weed smoking in your actual house.

5. Talk to teachers and other parents

Talking to other adults will not stop your teenagers getting high, getting drunk, staying out late, having dodgy boyfriends or girlfriends, failing exams, getting suspended from school, shoplifting mascara, or being hideously rude. It will, however, make you realise that all teens are on a spectrum of defiant reinvention, and that it’s not just yours. It’s
always comforting to hear about someone else’s kid setting fire to the school toilets.

Also, a united front between home and school — between you and the teachers — affords less opportunity for excuses and evasion, and provides a sense of secure boundaries, no matter how much teens protest and accuse you of ruining their lives.

6. Empower with knowledge

Kids getting stoned? Print off a fact sheet about the medical and legal
repercussions of all drug use. Kids like booze? Ditto. Kids thinking about sex? Talk to them about respect, consent, and condoms. They will scream in horror and beg you to shut up, but don’t allow the internet to be their sole sex educator. Talk to them about relationships, as well as biology.

Teach them life skills — cooking, money management, negotiating public transport, bank accounts, food shopping. How to be politely assertive in public places such as shops or restaurants, and how to be socially aware so that they are not entirely the centre of their own universe (younger siblings are handy for this, as are pets). Teach your teens responsibility and self-sufficiency and you’ll be able to go away for lovely long weekends without them. Win- win.

7. Friendships

Your teens may have lovely friends who are polite, considerate, charming, and who sail through exams. Or your teens may befriend every delinquent in the neighbourhood, gravitating towards the tricky kids because the nice kids are boring.

By expressing horror at your kids’ choice of friends, you compound the attraction. No matter what kind of oik your teen brings home, remain neutral. Banning a friend from the house should only happen if you suspect the friend is criminally insane, wanted by Interpol, or has the potential to burn your house down as you sleep. Otherwise, display neutrality, and if your teens are as smart as you know they are, they will figure it out for themselves and move on in their own time. Your disapproval is their catnip.

8. Remember what it was like for you

Empathy is all. They are crawling with hormones, and their peer group is currently the most important thing in their lives. Exam pressure is high, prospects low. Your impulse to intervene and protect comes from your own memories of what you were like as a teen — reckless, feckless, clueless — but too much close supervision is counterproductive. Don’t be a helicopter, or worse, a drone — if someone can’t make mistakes in their teens, they won’t have learned anything, and may continue making them into young adulthood and beyond. Best to get as many mistakes as possible out of the way when they are still too young for jail.

9. Detach with love

All of this might sound glib, but anyone who has ever parented teens knows how stressful it can be. You could quite legitimately drive yourself insane with worry, but this would be counterproductive for both your own mental health and that of your entire household. Instead, zoom out and imagine them in a few years, once they have traversed the stickiest part of their development. With a solid foundation from you, they will grow up to be nice people. Focus on your own life, and enjoy it. You’re doing a great job. Well done. Go you.

10. Meanwhile, make room for...

Pot Noodle, Lynx, Haribo, KFC, McDonalds, hogged bathrooms, cheap booze, expensive trainers, detentions, suspensions, offensive lyrics, tons of make-up, ignored homework, biohazard bedrooms, Rizlas, swearing, over-priced labels, monosyllabic friends, violent online gaming, obsessive phone use, mini-dramas, total self-involvement, and the occasional hug.

Good luck


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