Having children is the most rewarding, yet challenging thing you will ever do in your life. From the moment we fall pregnant our lives belong to something more important than just ourselves. We are responsible for another life, one we must always put first no matter what hurdles we are faced with.
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For many, we assume the hard times will be the first 6 years. At this stage we are mapping out our children’s futures and laying the foundations to better health, good mental health and positive attitudes. We hit the ground running with sleepless nights and worries over illness when we have newborns, this then develops into the crazy world of the toddler. They never sit still, they start to challenge you and test the boundaries and, of course, the terrible twos will see us dealing with tantrums and tears. By the time our kids reach ten years old, a little light relief comes. You can explain more, bargain better and they understand consequence. Finally we have children who feel empathy and remorse, they understand a little more about boundaries and respect when we are not at our best. This makes for a much easier job when parenting.
However, don’t be fooled. Everything you have just been through on your parenting journey will seem like a walk in the park when hormones start kicking in and your child transitions into a teenager.
Let’s concentrate on the positives first. Teenage children are fantastically fun. They start to really show their true personality and you can step back and allow them their first real taste of freedom. They will start to make lasting bonds with other children and suddenly your home will come alive with these little independent teenagers, you will find more laughter, more creativity and plenty of opportunity to chat. It is an exciting time in your children’s lives as they start to realise what they are really capable of, learning new skills, preparing their foundations for the future and pushing their hobbies to the next level. You will find yourself being very proud on lots of occasions, you will also be surprised more than you could imagine.
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On the flip side, there are going to be more tears and arguments than you ever thought possible. You won’t know when they are coming, there will be no pattern like with toddlers. One day they will wake up and it will appear a dark cloud has descended upon your whole house and then, with an almost instant flick, bright sunshine will radiate out of them. Teenage hormonal changes make for an almost unbearable rollercoaster ride. Don’t even try to understand why they are high as a kite or down in the dumps. Just love them through it, respect there are lots of changes going on which they may find impossible to control and let them know that no matter what, you are listening.
So, how are you going to survive the teenage years? We have a little guide which may just help you out as they shoot their way to adulthood.
The move to high school is going to be huge for them. Friendship groups change and they go from being the top dog in their infant school to suddenly being like babies in a school with much older children. Workload increases and there is a lot of homework for the evenings. Teachers are no longer the super sweet adults than nurtured them from 5 year olds. They now seem to be either crazy fun like a cool older sibling or fiercely strict, worse than mum and dad in a mood! It’s a lot to take in, especially when your hormones are telling you the world is out to get you and that just isn’t fair!
It is a really important time to be there for your child. This can be hard, especially if you are working on your career or out trying to stabilize your financial future. Make time to sit down and have breakfast together. A good start to the day will fuel them and set them off with a good attitude. Talk to them about what they need to do in the day and see if you can find any challenges they are taking on, or worries they may have. You need to be pretty subtle about it. Try not to be too heavy in the morning. Just make sure they head out the door happy and relaxed. Whilst they do need to learn independence and start getting themselves more organised in the morning, you still need to lead the way and help them leave enough time so you aren’t all rushing out the door worried about being late. You know how the first few hours of the morning can dictate the whole day, so ensure they are able to be calm and focussed at this time.
The end of the day is important too, whilst you want to know what they got up to in the day and will be focussed on homework or any study they need to prepare, try to imagine how you would feel getting home after a long day to be faced with the idea of working again. Talk to the teachers and get familiar with their home study plans. This will give you a heads up on what work they need to do and when it needs to be done by. Get them some healthy snacks so they are refuelled then maybe lay them out on the table to work as you prepare the evening meal. This means you can be on hand to help or just around to keep them company. Show them that getting this work out of the way early will ease pressure and let them enjoy their evenings without tomorrow hanging over their heads. It will be a tough sell, but keep at it. Don’t use the evening meal as a time to question your children about their day. Let them shut down and enjoy being at home with their family. Putting too much pressure on your children to talk may push them the other way. If they bring up school then run with it, but try to use your parenting superpowers to know if there is a problem brewing. Then be subtle in your techniques to get to the bottom of it.
As your children get to their late teens you may find yourself in a world you rather wouldn’t. No matter how grounded you thought they were, or how hard you worked to bring them up the right way, teenagers can slip down a slope pretty quickly if they fall into the wrong crowd or feel they have no one to turn to when they are under exam pressure. Keep your eyes peeled for any signs they may have issues. Not eating correctly, staying awake all hours of the night and becoming withdrawn from the family could all indicate there are deeper issues. Drinking, drugs and sex are probably three of the biggest worries for parents. Unfortunately no matter how hard you try, you cannot protect them from these experiences so you need to really be on the ball with the small indicators.
If you do find yourself with a child who has fallen into the wrong crowd and has started drinking or taking drugs, you need to get professional advice on how to help. Real Recovery is a great resource, even if you aren’t ready to bring outside help into your family. You will find lots of advice and real life experiences on dealing with a teenager experiencing these types of problems.
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The truth is, in some cases, it doesn’t matter how you have parented. Try not to blame yourself for their moods or the challenges they are facing. If you’ve provided them with a roof over their head, food in their belly and plenty of time, space, understanding and love then you have done everything a parent could possibly do. You can’t account for the outside world and how your child will perceive it – try as we might children do have minds of their own and getting inside their heads is impossible. If you wrap them in cotton wool you run the risk of them depending on others to keep them safe. If you give them too much freedom they will believe they know best. The greatest way of parenting, when it comes to your child, is your way. Just do as much research as you can before you set yourself on a direction. Talk to other parents, talk to members of your family and most importantly of all, listen to your child. We tend to believe that talking is the best option when it comes to a teenager but actually, listening is the best way of getting through to them.
No matter how horrified we are with what they have to tell us, it’s vital we don’t show it. Listen, take a deep breath and then stick to be constructive about a problem. Even if it starts with “Mom, I borrowed your car …”