Nothing can prepare you for the ups and downs of raising a teen. Parenting teens has been one of the most complicated and confusing (not to mention frustrating!) times for me and my teenage kids but it’s also been filled with so many heartwarming moments and invaluable learning experiences. Here are 10 teen truths every parent of a teen (or preteen) needs to know.
1. Your kid is going to mess up
Yes, YOUR kid. It’s inevitable. And it’s healthy. They need to make mistakes to learn the lessons. Some will make big mistakes, others will make smaller ones.
My kids have messed up. Despite all my best efforts and boundaries and rules and consequences and currency. As they grow up – they grow out.
Their time under your watchful eye is rightly reduced and in the big, wide world they will be presented with opportunities to make altogether the wrong decisions. The first time they mess up will be a tough milestone for you all. But if you handle it properly, it will also be your greatest experience of growth and, surprisingly, connection.
2. Your kid’s friends are going to be more important than you
This is a really big one that you better understand. When your kids aren’t home, under your parental gaze, they are with their friends. You’d better do your best to make sure those friends are people you want your kid to be influenced by.
Because they will be influenced by them.
Know who your kid’s friends are. Know something about the households they come from. Know something about the set of values those friends operate within.
Your kid will almost definitely not tell you these things. So you need to find out for yourself. Make your home a place that your kid’s friends want to spend time at. Watch them interact with each other. Get to know them. Develop your own rapport with them.
In my case, I do this with food. Copious amounts of food at a shared table that my kid’s friends can’t resist. And then while they’re eating, I’m disguising my interrogation in friendly chit-chat. It is devious and costs me kilos of pasta and chicken wings but it continues to be the most valuable investment I have ever made.
3. Your kid follows influencers
You can rage against this machine all you like, but influencers are a thing. And do you know what they do? THEY INFLUENCE.
As much as you may hate that world, and not ‘do’ *insert social media platform here* my best advice is to get familiar with it really soon.
Understand the trends and the directions and the distractions and, most of all, the threats. You don’t need to do a deep dive. But you need a general understanding of what your kid is seeing. Because I can assure you, your kid is being exposed to all of these things every day. Even those without smartphones or forbidden social media apps. Do you know why? Refer to point 2.
4. Your kid’s friends’ parents are your greatest allies
Your kid is going to be in other parents’ homes. The more of these parents that are, predominantly, on the same page as you, the easier your job keeping your kid safe will be.
But let me say this – they are not going to have exactly the same boundaries and ideas as you. Even your bestie parent friends. Which is why I say they need to ‘predominantly’ be the same. To me it’s more about their intrinsic values than their execution of said values.
That common ground is invaluable during times of developmentally appropriate risk-taking and boundary-pushing behaviours that often ripple through a friendship group.
5. You’re going to question your own boundaries
Listen. Being consistent is hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it… and I can assure you not everyone does.
What’s important to you and your family within your values may seem entirely at odds with everyone else.
For us, we worked out pretty quickly what boundaries we weren’t prepared to blur. Some of these we borrowed from other parents who we respected and blazed the trail before us and some we worked out the hard way.
Our non-negotiables are:
- no sleepovers at other friend’s places after parties
- no facilitation of underage drinking [eg, providing drinks at home or to take to parties]
- no flipping in the pool when friends are over
- no tech at the dinner table
- if their friends behave in a way that I believe is unsafe while they are here, I will notify their parents
- no glass by the pool
- no strippers
- no crystal meth
6. School isn’t everything – but learning is
School can be a tough environment for some kids, especially if they feel that succeeding there is everything. It is not.
School is important but it is not a one-size-fits-all offering. Your kid may not suit mainstream education, need extra support., flexible hours, or a tutor.
Your kid may love the structure of school and absolutely excel in their grades. Your kid may also hate the structure of school and absolutely excel in their grades.
The point I’m making here is, just don’t think school is the only option for your kid. Research some of the other ways to learn if your kid is struggling.
For me, our school has worked with us to create the right learning environment and structure suitable for my two very different boys. If your school can’t do that, look for one that can.
If you can’t find a school, then research a trade or a vocational course or a job. School isn’t everything, just make sure your kid is still learning.
7. All behaviour is communication
Read that again. Your kid’s behaviour is telling your something.
If you are going through a challenging time, try to separate the behaviour from the outcome [particularly if it’s a bad one!]
What are they communicating to you?
Are they scared or confused or unhappy or anxious or lonely or angry or frustrated?
When are you seeing this behaviour?
Is there a pattern?
They almost definitely do not know that they are communicating anything at all, by the way. They’re just [mis]behaving. It’s your job to work out why.
8. Your kid is going to pull away from you
And you have to let them. This one hurts at first but it’s totally normal.
They will pull away. It may be in little moments like suddenly not wanting to share anything about their day/week/life on the drive home from school or profound ways that involve slamming their bedroom doors as they shut you out of the only part of the world that they can control.
They need to pull away to prove to themselves that they can survive just outside your grasp.
Don’t hold on too tight or they will pull too hard and if they keep pulling and you keep holding the risk is the band that tethers you to each other may snap.
And everyone knows what happens when a band breaks. It snaps back at one or both of you. And it hurts and it is often irreparable. Let the line out. Keep it strong and with just enough slack that it will bring them back to you.
9. This will be in your performance review
~ It’s your JOB to raise your kids. Their adult relationship with you is your PERFORMACE REVIEW ~
I read that somewhere and I really liked it.
Sometimes the role of parenting (especially parenting teens) can seem entirely overwhelming and one that we all are, at times, ill-prepared for.
Approaching it like a job can make it easier to navigate. Often when I have felt a disconnect between what I want one of the boys to do and how they are receiving that request/direction, I take a breath and approach it from a different perspective.
“How would you communicate this to a team member or colleague?” I ask myself. Applying the same courtesy and respect that I would usually reserve for peers has yielded positive results.
Also, sometimes treating it like a job gives some much-needed emotional distance from the, potentially volatile, situation in front of you.
10. Your teen will return to you
Be ready for them. You may not recognise this new version of them. They will seem older and wiser and closer to adulthood than you feel ready for.
Make room for that new version.
Make room for these bigger thoughts and bigger emotions and bigger plans.
Be ready for opinions that may not match your own. Be prepared to learn new things about yourself as your kid mirrors your behaviours.
Be available whenever you can. This is not always easy but try anyway. Older kids feel rejection more keenly than younger kids. If you’re too busy for them often enough, they’ll stop asking. Do not give them a reason to stop asking.
What to read next
- How to Teach a Teen to Drive and Why Mums are Best for the Job
- Parenting Teens – 16 Simple Rules to Follow When Raising Teen Boys
- Silence? Why Teens Stop Talking And Why it’s More of the Problem Than We Think
For a twice weekly dose of Mum Central, subscribe to our newsletter here.