Counselling Chronicle (17)
Parenting in the Early Teens
Inspiration for this issue comes from Dr J. Coulson – “Snarl for the Camera” (article in Daily Telegraph early 2019)
Are you a parent of a 12-14 year old? Do you spend some of your time asking yourself if parenting a teenager is going to get harder than this? The good (and bad) news is – research shows that 12-14 year olds are the toughest age group to parent.
During the ages of 12 to 14, teenagers are going through a number of changes. Physically, their bodies, brains and hormones are changing rapidly. Emotionally, they are playing catch up with the physical changes. Socially they are working out who they are, where they fit, and what they might like their future to look like. Added to this are the challenges of starting high school, managing friendships and school work, as well as balancing the demands of technology, hobbies/interests and family life. They can almost be forgiven for being difficult.
At the same time as your 12-14 year old is going through all this, you as a parent are beginning to map out new, uncharted teen territory. You are trying to allow your teen some responsibilities and freedoms as they search for independence, while balancing this with the knowledge they can still make poor decisions and need boundaries. It can be hurtful when your teen seems to push you away and takes you for granted, and yet will smile and embrace everyone else.
So how do you manage?
1. Know that this is normal! All teens must go through this developmental phase of discovering themselves and their independence. To do this they will seem to separate from the family for a time. Reassure yourself that they will come back when they are ready, and trust that the values and boundaries you have instilled in them since toddlerhood will guide them to making good choices about their direction.
2. Set aside time for your teenager. Make a point to do a joint activity with your teen as often as possible. Teens appreciate one-on-one time with a parent, as it gives them an opportunity to enjoy your company and speak about anything that they want to. Go for a walk, take up a sport together, go for a drive to the beach or visit your local café for a milkshake.
3. Be available. Although they loathe to admit it, teens like you to be around, even if they aren’t in the mood for talking. They appreciate your presence at home, even if they spend most of the time in their room. Be prepared for them to come to you to talk about things – usually late at night or when you’re driving in the car together. Making yourself available for these spontaneous chats increases the likelihood your child will share their concerns and struggles with you.
4. Allow your teen some independence. Give your child opportunities to exercise their own judgement in age-appropriate ways. Make sure that they know that along with some of the rights they are claiming (independence, freedom, etc.) come responsibilities in equal measure.
5. Understand that the times when your teen is behaving in the most unloveable ways are the times that they need the most love. In this way they are just like toddlers. Maintain your connection and be there for your child’s emotional highs and lows. Try not to take what they say to you in these times too personally.
6. Take a breath, pick your battles, and make time for your own well-being. You need to look after yourself in order to parent in the way you would like.