Anyone who’s been through it will tell you parenting a teenager can be a tough job.
That’s probably why Mark Twain once said: “When a boy turns 13, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.”
I’m sure Mr. Twain wasn’t trying to teach parenting skills but rather to illustrate the frustrations a parent can feel when dealing with teenagers.
You may wake up one morning when your child is about 13 or 14 and ask yourself “Who is this creature that’s taken over my child’s body?” Around this age teenagers want to begin to distance themselves from their parents and to try to find out who they are apart from mom and dad. It can be a grieving time for a parent as their baby begins to become an independent adult.
There can be a lot of conflicts when parenting a teenager. Sometimes the biggest one is an internal conflict – it’s the struggle between wanting to be the adolescent’s friend and being their parent. Unfortunately now, more than ever, you need to be their parent.
And, because of this, one of the hardest aspects of teen parenting is teaching responsibility. You may want your teen to like you. But more important for your child’s long-term wellbeing is teaching them responsibility by establishing rules and consequences.
No matter how your child may act, remember this: under it all, your child wants to feel protected. They want to know there are boundaries – they just may not know how to ask for them. In fact, I find it very interesting that often adolescents who find themselves on the wrong path want to get caught. Why? They usually want to stop a bad behavior but may not know how. They need your help.
Because you know your child best, you’ll know what areas they may need more guidelines in. Some common areas for rule setting for early teens are: clothing, study time, friends, curfew, and activities.
I find one of the biggest conflicts is over friends. You may start to see your child hanging around with different kids who are doing things you don’t want your son or daughter to do. You need to clarify which friends you find acceptable and which you don’t. And although you may try to explain why you don’t want your child to be friends with a bad influence, often the best response is the parents’ trump card phrase: “Because I said so.”
Perhaps you don’t feel a need to set any boundaries for your teenager because you felt your upbringing was too strict. You’d be doing a great disservice to your teen. Assuming your child knows right from wrong is usually a bad assumption. As they try to test the waters, they’ll often step over a line. If there’s no line, they could go too far.
Once you’ve set rules, you’ll need to set consequences. Common consequences are taking away certain privileges (like video game or telephone use) or being grounded. The consequence should have impact but not be too long as to create a sense of indifference. Sometimes the best person to consult when setting consequences is your child. Believe it or not, teenagers often set consequences for themselves much harsher than you might.
But above all, once you set a consequence you need to carry it out. I’ve heard of one parent who threatened to take his daughter’s door away if she didn’t stop slamming it. The next day when his daughter came home from school, her door had been taken off the hinges. (Seems there are no idle threats in this house.) And needless to say, when the door was replaced it wasn’t slammed again!
Enforcing the rules can be hard sometimes. Again allow your teen to help you police the rules. They can be very creative. I heard of one mother who wanted her son home early one night because she wanted to get to sleep early. Because his curfew was longer, the teen created a mutually agreeable solution. He put his alarm clock outside of his parents door and set it for his curfew. If he wasn’t home before curfew the alarm would go off and his parents would know. If he was home, everyone could sleep well. Problem solved.
The transition from parenting a child to an adolescent can be made a little easier by setting the pattern for rules and consequences when your child is young. A technique I recommend for young children is called 1-2-3 Magic. (see my All For You column titled “Treating Children Differently While Loving Them The Same” in my articles archive: www.fvinstitute.com.)
Parenting is a tough job. A little support can go a long way toward making the job easier. If you have a partner, be sure you talk to each other about it. If you’re a single parent, it may be a good idea to build a network of other parents to lean on when the stress of dealing with your teenage seems overwhelming.
Or you could find a good barrel maker.