It was always going to happen. The little bundle of joy you cuddled as you inhaled that intoxicating baby smell has grown up into someone you find hard to even recognise sometimes - a tempestuous turbulent teen. The road from babyhood to teenage goes by in a flash. As a parent you might not have changed, but your baby certainly has. The reality is that what worked for your child when he was five is very different from what works for him when he is 15. And, because we are still using the same old parenting approach as we did when the children were younger, we inevitably make mistakes.
Let’s look at the top 10 mistakes we, parents, make with our teenagers and how to rectify them.
1. Not being updated with the teen’s world: Just as we take refresher courses in connection with our careers, we must update ourselves in our most important job – parenting. The more we know, the better prepared we will be. If we are not aware of the anxieties and attractions that fill our teens’ world, we will not be able to respond appropriately and guide them effectively. So read up about all aspects concerning teenagers - changes that occur at the onset of puberty, pimples and braces, mood swings, peer pressures, growing interest in sex, increased tendency to take risks, temptation to use substances (alcohol, tobacco, narcotics), fascination with unconventional hairdos, inclination towards dressing up the ultra-modern way, predilection for music that seems incomprehensible and jarring to you ... the list goes on.
2. Having low expectations from your teen: ‘Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat as man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be’. That’s a wise saying in the context of your teen. Be aware that your teen is growing into tomorrow’s leader. So, do talk to her about her life goals, how she can motivate herself to work towards those goals, and how you can support her in achieving her dreams.
3. Not picking your parenting battles wisely: Rebellion and tussles to establish identity are a part and parcel of a teenager’s development. According to psycho-social development theorists, these are actually healthy signs. They indicate that the teenager is trying to think for himself, be independent and ‘flap his wings’ in preparation for flying the nest. But, these attempts could provoke confrontations between you and your child. Pick your battles wisely. Don’t let long hair, drooping jeans, blue-streaked hair or black nail polish become major issues. Instead, use the precious time you get with your teen to focus on serious issues.
4. Not being able to balance your teen’s need for privacy with yours for active parental involvement: You might hear your teen saying ‘I want my space and privacy...I am closing the door, I am talking to my friend on the phone.’ Some privacy is fine, as it shows that you trust your child and are giving her space, but I would highly recommend that you have some ground rules like keeping the computer with web access in a neutral, common area, so that you are aware when your teen is going online. Free parental software can track online time as well as activity. Encourage your teen to bring her friends home and make it your business to find out where they are going to ‘hang out’. Be their silent ‘friend’ on Facebook and other social sites.
5. Thinking that ‘good’ grades equals ‘good’ teen: Many parents fall into this trap. They wrongly believe that as long as their teen maintains a great academic score, he is safe and is well-adjusted. In my professional experience, there are many, many intelligent teens with strong academic achievements who fall prey to drugs, bullying and negative peer pressure and even develop low self-esteem. Always watch for signs of behavioural problems in your teen and tackle them early on.
6. Sending mixed parenting signals: The negative impact this can have cannot be stressed enough. It is vital that mother and father are on the same page with regard to parenting issues. Mothers, you cannot and should not shield your teens from their dads. Do not make excuses for them. Be conscious always that as parents you are a team.
7. Not involving teens in household decisions: Make a conscious effort to carve out time to spend with your teen. Ask for her opinions on various things that relate to your family as a unit. Involve her in family decisions. This will boost her sense of responsibility and is a great way to learn the skills needed in adulthood.
8. Trying to be your teen’s best friend: This is a mistake many parents make. Guess what? Your teen does not need another friend! He needs you as a parent - a role model and a mentor. This does not mean that like a friend you cannot hang out together, talk about ‘emotional stuff’ or be a good listener. But, remember, what he needs is someone he can look up to, someone who can help draw the boundaries. A friend is not equipped to fill that role.
9. Not getting to know peers and their families: Teens are extremely influenced by peers. Invest time in finding out who her friends are and keep an open house for these friends. If possible, try to learn a little about the families of her friends, but take care not to turn into a Sherlock Holmes!
10. Not preparing your teen for adolescence: Most of us in our generation tumbled into and out of our teen years. No one really prepared us about the changes we went through. That attitude does not work now. Our teens have to cope with an overload of media, digital content, brands and advertising, and adverse peer pressure. We need to prepare them for the road ahead. Do not be preachy. Instead, have informal short conversations. Spend time with them. See movies with them and talk about them later.
So, here’s the bottom line, parents – your little ones are already teenagers and soon they will be adults. It is important for you to assess your parenting approach and try to understand what is happening inside your teen’s head and heart. That’ll do both you and your teen a world of good.
As always, Happy Parenting!
Aparna Samuel Balasundaram – is an award winning Psychotherapist, Parent and Child Expert, with 10 years of experience in the USA.
She is the Founder of Life Skills Experts that enables parents and teachers to raise happy, confident and successful children. www.LifeSkillsExperts.com
She is also the Founder of ‘A Flourishing Me’, that offers contemporary Counselling and Parent and Life Coaching [www.AFlourishing.me]