It doesn’t seem fair that just yesterday you were your baby’s biggest hero, and today you’re facing a teenager that doesn’t seem to like you. But there is hope. Teenagers are human and are becoming familiar with their own quirks and faults, so they tend to be pretty forgiving of parents’ foibles. Your kids are learning that you too are only human, and like any healthy relationship, they will love you for you.
Every relationship takes work. If every interaction with your teenager is tense, small problems can snowball into disaster. But even the biggest problems life throws at them can be solved when you foster good communication with your kids. Even the most confident parents will recognise some of their own failings in the below list, but that only shows you where your learning opportunities are – not where you should feel guilty.
1. Excessive criticism
Constructive criticism in parenting is a balancing act. It’s your job to teach your kids to do their homework on time, clothe themselves, and correct their behaviour when necessary. However, censure and fault-finding need to be used sparingly and sensitively. No one likes getting an avalanche of bad feedback, and as a teen, they’ll be critiqued all day from friends, teachers and other parents. Remember to strike that balance so they feel accepted and cherished at home.
2. Talking instead of listening
We’re all guilty of it: administering advice when the person we’re talking to really just wants to be heard. It’s no different for teens. By now, your teenager knows your opinion on just about everything. Your new job is to stop talking and listen.
Grown-ups have a way of thinking they know what it’s like being a teenager, and yes, that’s true … kind of. But a lot has changed in the time since you were their age. If your child feels heard – because you’re genuinely listening to them – they will actively seek your opinion.
Granted, to be an active listener, you need to ask the occasional question, but grilling your teen with 20 questions as soon as they’re home isn’t listening. “Where did you go? Who with? What did you do?” isn’t helpful. Take a tip from journalists: don’t rush to fill the silences. If the conversation starts to lull, say, “I’m listening”. This gives them a chance to gather their thoughts, and helps them feel safe to talk.
4. Not picking the right battles
Before you face-off about uneaten brussel sprouts, take a step back and ask yourself if it’s worth it. At this age, your teen is grappling with much bigger issues on a day-to-day basis, and really, the sprouts don’t matter. A lot of battles don’t. When you give your child an opportunity to choose on relatively insignificant issues, they’ll be more open to taking your advice on the big issues.
5. Making them feel unimportant
Teenagers don’t need to be treated like they’re the only person in the room, but they do need to understand they’re important to you. If you spend all your time with them on the phone to someone else, it’s easy for them to feel like part of the furniture.
If they accidentally smash your phone’s screen or break one of the better fishing rods, you may be annoyed but you still need to make it clear to your teen that they are more important to you than any object. If they feel cherished, they will cherish their relationship with you.
6. Comparing kids with each other
It’s very easy to fall into this trap and accidentally breed resentment between your kids. The best way to avoid it is to remember how you feel when your partner compares you to your mother, your siblings or your neighbours.
7. Sharing stories that embarrass them or publicly complaining about them
There are few things as humiliating as overhearing someone saying cruel things about you. That hurt increases exponentially when it’s your parents doing it. People – teenagers and adults – behave in like, so if you treat them badly, they’ll act badly.
8. Nitpicking how they look
By the time they’re 13, most kids know the basics of hygiene and grooming. After that, any advice or opinions on their appearance should be gentle reminders. Setting a family standard can help – everyone brushes their teeth, showers, does their laundry. Of course, there’s plenty of stuff you should help with (healthy food, advice on acne care, etc), but nitpicking hurts relationships and can diminish their pride in their own appearance.
Nobody likes to be lumped into a negative stereotype, but for some reason it seems to be socially acceptable to do so with teenagers. They’re not all lazy, selfish or irresponsible, and mostly they’re managing to get through extremely complex lives pretty successfully, so cut yours a little slack if they forget to take the rubbish out.
10. Being constantly suspicious
When you expect the worst of a person, they’ll usually match your expectations. Of course you should be cautious, but when kids aren’t trusted and are constantly treated with suspicion, they will gravitate towards dangerous behaviours. By all means, set safeguards such as putting passwords on your computers and occasionally checking the history for anything dodgy, but don’t always assume the worst.
11. Expecting immediate compliance
It sometimes takes a few minutes to complete the task that you were already doing when someone asks you to do something like putting away the dishes. Give your kids the same level of respect for their time as you’d expect for yours.
12. Never giving apologies
Each time you mess up by unfairly yelling or overzealously punishing your child, imagine that’s one brick. When those bricks pile up, you get a wall between you and your kid. Luckily, apologies remove those bricks. Everyone messes up. Lead by example by apologising quickly and forgiving easily, then they will too.
Most of all, always remember that learning is a lifetime journey and your teenager is still at the beginning of it.