To be Mum or Dad to a tween-going-on-teen can feel like punishment for some parenting sin you can’t actually remember committing.
But the good news is that you can limit the damage you do to yourself (and your kids!) if you use this phase to learn about yourself and develop a crucial new parenting technique you’ll rely on more and more as they get older: the skill of rational, reasonable communication.
And you’ll definitely need it when it comes to ‘the talk’! None of us likes to chat about sex with our youngsters – yet studies suggest that 50% of American 16-year olds have had sex. I don’t have the space to cover all of the important information you’ll need, so you’d better start reading books like The Sex Lives of Teenagers, by Lynn Ponton, MD, and The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel, PhD.
“Nothing was the same from the moment my son stopped skateboarding and had his first date… it was as if we’d caught a serious illness that shifted us from parents to preachers, with a dash of puzzled along the way…”
That comment, from one of my clients, hits right to the heart of the matter. Yes, parents often do spend all their time scratching their heads and wondering why during the teenage years… and, yes, preaching may seem the best method to get your message over. But over-reactive parenting can very quickly wear you down and wear you out. You may feel you’re pushed up against a brick wall but kindness and patience are the keys – not preaching. I strongly believe, and teach, that kindness is all-important in times of suffering and stress – which is pretty much how the teen years feel to your youngster. Your teenager needs you to be kind and strong now more than ever before.
“Avoiding the frightening subjects of drugs, alcohol, smoking and sex can only impede your teenagers’ healthy emotional and social development”
I suggest that you begin immediately (well before the tween years if you can) to talk to your kids, not at them. Discuss books and the way other people do things that succeed. The Kennedys talked about history at their nightly dinners. TALK, TALK, TALK… about concepts, values and responsibilities; about drugs, smoking, and sex rather than about neighbours, celebrities and what’s on the TV.
The mistake of avoiding the frightening subjects of drugs, alcohol, smoking and sex can only impede your teenagers’ healthy emotional and social development. In her book, Lynn Ponton offers suggestions that may help you kickstart conversations – and she also includes a list of sexual readiness questions that teenagers can ask themselves in private.
Your children may agree with you some sunny day in the far-away future, but they will not say so or show it during these intense years where asserting their self-proclaimed independence and freedom is the main agenda. Let them find and express their own style, values, and politics. And be kind about their ideas even if you cannot honestly cheer. I can guarantee that your children will hear you when you talk of values in a consistent and levelheaded manner. And they will value your opinion no matter what their friends are saying. But they don’t have to agree with you right now and that has to be okay, too. There’s nothing like the dogmatic, lecture approach of any adult to alienate the self-absorbed teenager.
“Accept that even if your kids don’t have to agree with you right now, they do value your opinion, no matter what their friends might be saying.”
Above all, don’t threaten your children when your anger rears its ugly head. Sometimes it takes all the self-discipline in the world to remember the great qualities they work so hard to hide in their blind rush to be the coolest thing since sliced bread. Practising kindness can be a lifesaver for all concerned. When your children learn to cooperate with your rules they will earn the privileges they really want.
If any member of your family is over-reacting in any way at all with worry, fear, sleeplessness or whatever – that’s trouble best left to professionals. Group or solo therapy is recommended as a pit stop along the teenage highway.