Finding parenting a teenager a nightmare? Social services provider Family Works has some simple ground rules to help parents support their teens to spread their wings and grow more independent while learning how to navigate through life.
Family Works Practice Leader Ian Tomkins says the golden rule in parenting teenagers is to stay curious, not furious.
“Focus on what’s behind the behaviour, what the need might be behind it and stay connected. By keeping the connection, they will be more likely to tell you if they get into real trouble.
“As friends start to become more important than parents in the early teenage years, many young people no longer want to hang out with their parents. So parents need to learn to let them go a little more while retaining the connection.”
Tomkins says when staying connected it’s important to remember the “less is more” principle.
“Rather than bombard them with commands and demands, keep these to a minimum and have one or two positive interactions to keep the connection. For instance, initiate a conversation about a quality they have that you’ve noticed or compliment something they’re wearing. Don’t be put off by a shrug. Know that they’re absorbing what you are saying and it is being noticed, and it will pay off down the track.
“The other great thing you can do is stay responsive. Take the classic scenario of a child ignoring a parent all day. Then, when the parent gets the chance to sit down to do something they want to do, the child needs them for something. Although your immediate emotional response may be frustration and potentially anger, it’s vital to put that aside in favour of seizing the opportunity to connect. Self-regulating is key to the success of parenting teens.”
Tomkins says the “emotional brain” of 12-14-year-olds grows faster than their “rational brain” so discussing and negotiating ground rules and limit-setting works a lot better than imposing them.
“Teenagers need negotiated boundaries to push against and learn about the world, themselves and consequences.
“Consequences fall into two camps: logical and natural. Let’s say your teenager goes to a party that gets out of control. The natural consequence is the impact on the child and them thinking ‘I’m going to do that differently next time.’ The more the child can learn from natural consequences, the better. Some children need support to learn from these. If that is the case, pick your moment when peace prevails, and have a conversation about what they’ve learned.
“The logical consequence is parental involvement. Say you’ve negotiated ‘we agree that you’ll be back by 11pm’ and your teenager got back at midnight. As a logical consequence, that timeframe may need to be reduced to say 10.30pm.
“Logical boundaries are best negotiated, reasoned, measured, and balanced in the context of what’s occurred with the outcome being the child learns.
“If your impulse is to go more extreme and say ‘you’re grounded for a week.’ It’s not logical or measured. The teenager will naturally try to negotiate their way out of it and parents won’t stick to it.”
Tomkin adds that if you’re in a shared parenting situation, especially where there’s a difference in values and or routines at each home, there are four ground rules parents and caregivers need to try to live by for children of all ages:
- minimal conflict
If these are in place, the children’s spontaneous or even impulsive behaviours can fall back on something solid.
For more information about Family Works parenting programmes, click here.