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This week on the blog we’re talking teens – how to communicate with them, how to discuss the tricky issues, how to nurture their faith, and what to do if they go completely off the rails. Today I’m delighted to welcome freelance writer Ruth Leigh to share with us some encouragement as we embark upon that daunting task: parenting our children through adolescence. Ruth is a mum of three teens/tweens, and has experience a-plenty to share with us. Over to Ruth!
I’m a sucker for Top Ten Lists.
You know the kind of thing. Top Ten Best Playdough Recipes. Top Ten Child-Friendly Christmas Attractions. Top Ten Infallible Tips For Raising Perfect Teenagers Without Losing Your Mind.
OK, you’ve rumbled me. I made that last one up. I bet you anything you like, however (and I’m not a betting woman), that if I posted a blog on that very subject, with that heading, an awful lot of people would click on it in search of my pearls of wisdom.
This blog is not that blog. I do not have all the answers. Instead, here are some insights from my own parenting life, some helpful suggestions, and some great books and writers who have inspired me as I struggle to keep three children alive and happy.
You may be asking at this point, “And what exactly qualifies you to write a blog on teenagers, pray, Ruth?”
I have a 16-year old boy at college, a 13-year old boy at high school and an 11-year old girl in her last year of primary school. I also used to be a youth leader at my old church. From time to time I tutor teenagers in English Literature and Language. I’ve got a lovely 15-year old boy coming every week at present. I love teenagers. I really do. Their honesty, their compassion, their clarity, their belief that things can change for the better. What’s not to like?
So now you know a bit about me, let’s kick off with Ruth’s Top Three Realisations.
Don’t Listen to What Everyone Says
How many people told you you’d never sleep again when you were pregnant?
Did you have Moaning Minnies assuring you that the Terrible Twos would be the End Of The World?
Are there those of your acquaintances who would suck their teeth, sigh heavily and assure you that raising teenagers was akin to crawling through the Gobi Desert while howler monkeys dropped rotten fruit on you?
They were wrong. You do sleep again after babies, just not in quite the same way. You made it through the Terrible Twos with some hilarious anecdotes and a pile of cherishable blackmail material.
Believe me when I tell you that bringing up teenage children requires just the same skills you’ve been learning since they were born (plus a handful of extra ones) – you will get through it!
You’re an Embarrassment to Them
Teenagers are supposed to find you hideously embarrassing, lame and out of touch, in just the same way that toddlers are supposed to rebel against you to find out where they belong in the world.
Keep Short Accounts
You will make mistakes and say things you regret or don’t mean. So will they. Apologise and forgive each other, even if all you get is a grunt. This means a huge amount to teenagers.
Don’t pretend to be infallible and never be too proud to say you were wrong. It’ll pay huge dividends in your relationship going forward.
I’ve always read around my subject, so here are my favourite helpful, funny and encouraging books for those about to embark on the teenage years.
Anything by the sainted Vicki Iovine is wonderful. In 2003, my first child in the early stages of incubation. I was delighted to find that someone so eminently well qualified to write about such matters (4 children in 6 years) could make jokes, be witty, share her own and her friends’ experience in such a generous way. As the child and then children grew, I read all her “Best Friends” series, right through to Getting Your Groove Back, my current position.
Another go-to for me is Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys. My top takeaway from the book was that if you want to discuss something important with a boy, don’t sit them down and smack them between the eyes with it. Introduce the subject casually while doing an activity. It could be gardening, building Lego, going for a walk or whatever. It really works.
Rob Parsons’ Teenagers! What Every Parent Has To Know is fantastic. It’s written with Rob’s trademark warm and reassuring tone and is also very funny.
I came across Richard Templar’s Rules series while waiting for a train at Liverpool Street station. (Where else would you go if you had time to spare but a bookshop?) Richard’s books are easy to read and full of wisdom. The title makes it sound prescriptive. It really isn’t. The blurb for The Rules of Parenting tells you all you need to know.
“There are lots of wrong ways to bring up your kids, but there are lots of right ones, too… The Rules of Parenting presents the principles to follow which you can adapt to suit you and your children. Beginning with the first rule “Relax” and continuing through 100 rules, this book presents a guide to everything a parent needs to know from toddling, school, boyfriends or girlfriends, through driving lessons and college.”Richard Templar, The Rules of Parenting
What I’ve Learned About Parenting Teens
Our job, as parents, is to prepare our children to leave us. That means teaching, supporting, disciplining and encouraging them. They don’t want you to be their best friend. Teenagers still need rules, boundaries and discipline just as much as they did as children, even if these boundaries are a little wider and allow for more independence.
Be the parent who welcomes everyone if you can. I’ve always had a fairly open-door policy to my children’s friends. This means that I was giving myself a hard time when they were younger with regards to mess and mass catering, but now I’m reaping the benefits. They feel comfortable bringing friends to our home, so they’re not lurking in parks or on the streets. Without meaning to, teenagers will often open up in an atmosphere of non-judging hospitality.
Don’t try to be “cool”, but do acquaint yourself with the world your teenagers inhabit. For me, this means watching all the Marvel Universe films with them, having a nodding acquaintance with YouTubers (KSI, Jake Paul, Zoella etc) and understanding roughly what they mean when they talk about something being sick or needing a new pair of fresh crepes (that’s ‘shoes’, to the uninitiated).
Boys eat all the time and need plenty of fresh air and activity. This means a lot of mud and washing, but it’s all worth it. Year 8 is generally when you’ll see the first massive growth spurt. Eyebrows will become bushier, voices growlier, feet bigger. Girls will start to experience mood swings, unexplained tummy pains and start to find many of their cohort incredibly irritating. This kicks in at the end of Year 5/beginning of Year 6 in my experience.
Listen to them. Really listen to what they’re saying to you. Expect a bit of grunting, growling and door slamming, but remember that these are still your beloved children, albeit ones with a hormonal soup raging through their veins.
Fellow parents, let me encourage you. I am finding the teenage years infinitely less stressful than the toddler ones.
Life with teenagers is frequently described as terrible. It isn’t. It’s hard and confusing and sometimes worrying, but no more than any other part of the parenting journey.
Let me leave you with one of my favourite books of all time, which still brings a tear to my eye and sums up the entire parenting experience brilliantly. Zagazoo by Quentin Blake starts with a cute little smiling baby and ends with a tall, handsome, kindly chap starting off on his own life.
As you head into your teenage parenting years, hold tight to the knowledge that you’re not alone, you are a great parent and you can do this!
To read more by Ruth, check out her blog Big Words and Made-Up Stories.
Check out the other posts in this mini-series: