Many parents look forward to the teenage years. At last, they think, I shall be finished with dirty diapers, plastic toys, and tedious cartoons. Instead of a child to look after, they will have an adult to talk to, an equal with whom they can form a new kind of relationship. Mothers imagine going clothes shopping with their 15-year-old daughter and gossiping over a coffee. Fathers imagine giving their son driving lessons or taking him fishing, while he sits there attentively listening to their advice. The reality, however, is often different!
If you are struggling with a rebellious, unruly teenager, try the following:
1) Recognise that rebellion is natural. When confronted by a rude, sulky teenager, it can be hard to keep your temper. But you must never forget that rebellion is natural and healthy. Keep this in mind and you will find the whole experience more bearable. Your child doesn’t really hate you, though they may claim they do. They are simply establishing themselves as separate, independent beings.
2) Remind them that you are human as well. Teenagers can sometimes forget that their parents are human too. If you are locked in endless confrontation, your child will soon think of you as nothing more than an authority figure, somewhere between a policeman and a teacher. Allow them to see you upset. Tell them how much their behavior hurts you. But do not become an emotional manipulator. Adults frequently underestimate the young. Your teen will quickly sense if you are trying to make him feel guilty.
3) Treat them like adults. This is easier said than done of course, especially when you are dealing with an arrogant, sneering youth who thinks he knows everything. But in general, teenagers love to be treated like adults. If a major news story breaks, ask them their opinion and listen to their response. If they behave politely towards a family member, or do something else you appreciate, thank them. But thank them as you would thank an adult, not as you would thank a child. Above all, do not ridicule or draw attention to them. Some parents make foolish jokes about spots, boyfriends, and so on. Teenagers hate this.
4) Don’t be too intrusive. The words most often spoken by a rebellious teen are “leave me alone.” Sometimes this isn’t possible. You may suspect your child is being abused by a boyfriend or tempted into drug use. At times like that, you have every right to intrude. But in general, make it clear that you love them unconditionally and are there if they ever want to talk, then leave them alone.
5) Be strong and mean what you say. Teens often despise a weak father who tries too hard to avoid confrontation. Deep down, many crave an authority figure they can respect. Of course, this does not mean you should intimidate them. But you must be strong and stand firm. Teenagers are looking for boundaries, and they will keep provoking you until they find one.
6) Never compare them to other teenagers. Some parents, usually when pushed to breaking point, will compare their child to a friend’s son or daughter. This often takes the form of an angry rhetorical question: “why can’t you be more like Jane’s son?” for example, or “you never do any work! Your cousin revises all night.” If you child feels you consider them a failure, they will live up to this. Remember, your teen is trying to establish an identity. Do not make that identity a bad one.
The middle-aged, weighed down by mortgages and depressed by their thinning hair, tend to look back on their youth with longing. They cannot understand why their teenager lies around the house all day looking miserable. After all, he doesn’t have to commute through the rush hour, or watch his looks fade away, or deal with ageing parents. No, he does not. But he is still dealing with problems of his own. And though spots or bullying may seem trivial to you, in his world they are all-important. Rebellion is often a way of releasing pent-up fear and unhappiness.