Rather than lay down the law, demanding that your teenager does their homework, has a tidy room, sits down for their dinner with the family and shows model behaviour - think about what’s realistic. What might they agree to do and what might you agree to accept – with a bit of give and take on both sides?
Teenagers often seem very independent. Underneath it all they still need positive role models, security and love. It helps if they can see that you can be calm and flexible and that their safety and happiness is still your top priority.
Approaches that have worked for parents
The relationship between every parent and child is unique. Parents know their family best, so think about what would work best for yours.
You might want to try the following things that parents have said worked for them:
It’s not easy to be a calm role model and avoid arguments, but keeping your cool will help you and your teenager.
Pick your moment – as much as you can. When emotions are high - yours, theirs, or both - walk away, tell your teenager you’re not talking about it just now. No good ever comes from a shouting match.
Often it helps if you bring things up when you’re in the car with the music on or doing the dishes.
Teenagers can find too much direct eye contact feels like a dressing down. They can feel under real pressure to give you answers when they can’t quite explain their own behaviour or put their feelings into words.
When’s the last time you had a good chat and spent time together? Try to be aware of what’s going on for them while respecting their need for privacy.
If communication has really broken down, keep it low key, don’t ask too many questions. Tell them about your day, talk about the weather. It may feel false and awkward but it’ll show them talking doesn’t always have to be a fight. It will pay off.
Just because your teenager is growing up, it doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun and enjoying a laugh together. As their interests change and develop, teenagers still want you to take an interest and be there for them when they want their family.
It’s really important to show you are noticing the good things your teenager is doing, what they are managing well. No matter how small – notice them, tell them and thank them.
Talking through situations their friends are going through can be a good way to help your own teenager to work out things for themselves. It can help them understand your take on things – and that you both might have some wisdom to share.
Try to see things from your child’s perspective. Cut a bit of slack while sticking to boundaries: “I know it’s hard just now. But I still need you to text me when you’re out.”
Tell them why they need to stay in touch: “I love you and I worry about you.” Thank them when they stick to the rules – it’s always good to notice and appreciate their acts of kindness and maturity.
It’s better to negotiate than to think you can force your child to do anything – so where can you compromise? It can be amazing how effective a bit of leeway can be.
The most important thing is to have a conversation. Talk over what you think is reasonable, and find out what they think. For example, if they’re out with friends, the negotiation could be about agreeing: what’s safe, how will they get home, what will happen if something goes wrong or if they don’t keep their side of the bargain?
Give them praise and credit when the plan goes well or without a major hiccup. When it doesn’t go well, go back to having a conversation and talking through the consequences.
Your teenager will want to try new things, just as you did as a teenager. That is how teenage brains are wired! They still need to know you will try to keep them safe as you always have, they also need their freedom.
Channel their natural desire to take risks into positive activities, or ‘manageable risks’. This might be sport or a hobby. You may need to accept that some experimentation (within reason and limits) is part of growing up.
Parents need to adapt to change too
It seems like only yesterday your teenager was a child who needed you for everything. Now they may seem more interested in their friends and this can feel like the loss of the little child you knew.
As your child changes, you can change and adapt with them. Without burdening them, sometimes it’s good to gently explain to them that it’s hard for you too – and that you love just as much as you did when they were little.