Mum and teenage daughter talking togetherTeenagers can be tricky! When children are young it is
easier to have rules and enforce them. As they grow up
teenagers start developing their own identities and this may
not fit in with the ‘obliging child’ of their younger years.
They may not want to meet up with their parents’ friends,
they may have some issues with extended family gatherings,
family holidays, going to church or continuing with
practicing an instrument.  They may also have very different
ideas about how they want to spend their evenings.

Whilst some parents can go with the flow, remembering
their own teenage years and need for independence, other
parents can really struggle with the lack of control that they
feel as their children grow up. It is difficult to lose the
power and influence that parents have established.

And yet, most parents understand that the ultimate goal of
being a good parent is to help your child be independent,
confident and able to function well in the world. With this in
mind, your teenager needs to gradually assert themselves
and have a say in what happens to them. What is more
adults need to encourage this transition and allow their
teenager to make decisions, plan their time, have more
control and yes, occasionally make mistakes.

So what is the role of a parent with a teenager?  How much
control should we insist on, and how much should we stand
back?
This is going to be different for each family. Parents are still
responsible for their children. There need to be some rules
that reflect the values of the parents and which are non
negotiable. Each family has to decide for themselves what
these are, and in general having just a few hard-and-fast
rules is best. However parents need to be flexible with a
teenager’s social life and in allowing them some
independence. When they leave home, if they have not had
a chance to become responsible they will suddenly be
bombarded with temptations of all descriptions. It may be
best to allow them to enjoy some of those freedoms whist
you are still around to help them support them when they
find out the consequences of their actions.

With our own children, we have tried to help foster both
independence and responsibility. Our teenage daughters get
£15 a month pocket money which goes on the mobile phone
contract. If they need any more money they have to earn it.
One daughter has become our house ‘cleaner’, the other gets
temporary work at a hotel to earn money. One daughter
racked up a large phone bill, so she is paying this off
gradually. We allow the children to arrange get-togethers
with their friends provided they check with me first, and we
ferry them around to these. But we expect them to attend
extended family meals. I don’t like teenage ‘sleep-overs’, so
my children know that I will need to talk to the parents
about the plans for an overnight stay and whether there will
be alcohol there. At the weekend if we have a bottle of wine
with the meal, we will offer it to the children to have with their meal.
(They rarely want to try it, and if they do, just
have a tiny glass.) As they go to a single sex school, we
encourage them to do activities where they mix with boys
and girls, and they will go to a mixed sixth-form college. If
they lose something they pay for it –including school
uniform, but we happily replace anything they grow out of.
We provide essentials and they pay for anything extra. It’s
all a matter of helping them be responsible with their money
and in social situations. And it is important to explain your
values to them so that they use their freedom wisely.

One of the things my children know is that we will be there
for them if ever things go wrong. Once or twice there has
been a situation where they have made a mistake. They
know they can always come to us and we will help them
deal with the situation and support them.

As they grow older and leave home, as a parent this is one
of the things you can do which will make a huge difference
to your child. Not to bail them out, but to listen, help them
problem-solve and to support them when they need to deal
with the consequences of their actions. They need to know
that you love them unconditionally and will stand alongside
them in any difficulties they will face. And they need to
trust that when they make a mistake you will listen and not
judge, and will help them work out how to deal with the
issue and learn any lessons. At that point your reaction will
be crucial to your future relationship so think wisely before
you react to your child admitting to an error of judgement.

Finally, just be there for your teenager and young adult.
When they need your time to chat, make it a priority. At
home make time to talk every day. When they leave home
speak as often as you can. Ring them if they don’t ring you.
Learn to text; learn to use Facebook and instant messaging.
Keep the lines of communication open and be sure that they
know that they can come to you for support and a listening
ear whenever they want. Hopefully this will set them up for
a life-time.