Read time: 5 Minutes
It all happens very suddenly. One minute, you have this fun talkative child who loves playing, laughing and spending time with you, then suddenly – almost overnight, you’re landed with this lanky, mumbling figure that screams, slams doors in your face and has occasional mildly frightening meltdowns.
Welcome to the teenage years. Just when you managed to fully recover from sleepless nights, changing nappies and toddler tantrums, you enter into the second most challenging era of parenthood.
So whether you’re preparing for the onslaught of the teenage years or caught in the midst of the cyclone, here are a few things that might help you bring up your teen in the digital era.
You can’t really put yourself in their shoes
Yes, you were a teenager once and you vividly remember the highs and the lows you BUT have no idea what it’s like to be a teenager today. Your teen is right – you ‘just don’t get it.’
This is all mostly down to the internet. We know that it’s a monumental force in our lives, but for our children, it’s a totally different beast. They don’t know a world or life without it and they use it in a completely different way to us – a way that we can’t understand, no matter how savvy we are.
There are some parts of being a teenager are universally true and defy generations, but mostly you don’t and can’t understand the world your child lives in. Don’t try too hard to relate, just accept that life is different and do your best to understand.
You’re always wrong
Yes you have more life experience but teenagers know everything and you know nothing. They’re always right and they’ll be sure to patronise you with frequent sighs, snorts or eyerolls. Just accept this. They’ll come around in their twenties when they’re out of puberty and have a bit more self-awareness.
They do *actually* want to talk to you
One sure-fire sign that your child has truly become a teenager is their sudden silence, resistance to tell you what’s going on their live or have any sort of normal conversation.
Although it might seem like your child wants space from you on the surface, beneath it all they are craving your love and attention. The teenage years are dominated by feelings of insecurity; that you’re not good enough or that nobody gets you. Your child wants you to be caring and reassuring, they just don’t want to feel pressured or made to feel uncomfortable, so don’t press issues or force them to give you information.
Show that you’re always there by taking an interest, listening when your teen is willing to talk and being open yourself about how your feel.
Remember you are the parent
As much as it is important to be a friend to your child, you are always the parent and the authority figure, no matter what. Say no and stick to your values when you need to. Your children deserve freedom, independence and respect but don’t be afraid to ask where they’re going or who they’re with because you’re still their guardian at the end of the day.
Teenagers do stupid things
Teenagers do things they’re not supposed to. You did it when you were young and you can bet that your kids will too. They might lie about where they’re going or even experiment with things like alcohol or smoking.
Try to see the bigger picture. Realise that your children are not perfect, they will (and should) make mistakes. Just make sure they know what’s right and wrong and what your expectations are. Their friend James’ mum might not mind if he drinks the odd beer, but you might not be happy with that. Ensure you communicate your rules clearly in a way that doesn’t sound like an ultimatum – teens often see these as challenges. Reward good behaviour and respect and be flexible with your rules when you need to.
You are allowed to spy… kind of
You might think you know what your child is doing online but teens are very good at concealing and hiding things from you. This can be a major concern when it comes to the internet where they have instant access to information that might be unsuitable or harmful to them. Some parents will want to trust their children completely and give them free reign but if you are concerned about what your child is doing online, you can get access to their devices to see their location, messages, photos or the websites they are browsing.
Use it as a means to protect their health and safety and don’t be tempted to overuse this access to the point where you’re being intrusive.
The last thing you want is for your children to feel like you’re stalking and have no trust in them. Check every now and again, only when you feel concerned, and decide for yourself if you want to communicate this honestly with your children. The right way to approach this will depend on your own relationship.
You will never really know them
Once you think you’ve got your teenager sussed out, just like that they completely change or do something that’s completely out of character. Not only are teenagers scarily good at being sneaky, but the teenage years are a very intense time of complete transformation. Let your child experiment with who they are through the way they dress, the music they like or the friends they have. It’s part of life and mostly harmless. Just make sure to take lots of pictures during their ‘phases’ to embarrass them with in later life. It’s one of the great joys of being a parent.
It’s not your fault
Being a teenager is hard and your child will go through struggles that will break your heart, particularly with regards to how they view themselves. As a teenager, you’re insecure and feel like you’re not smart, good looking or likeable enough. Although we all felt this in our teens, we can only imagine how much more intense it is for kids of today whose lives are filled with filtered and unrealistic images everywhere they look.
It will be crushing for you as a parent to see your child feel this way, but don’t blame yourself or think it’s to do with how you raised them. Just be as reassuring as possible, highlighting your teen’s positive traits and teaching them the importance of self-care.
The ’big talks’ have changed
All parents dread having to sit down with their children and have those awkward life chats about the birds and the bees. Especially when you know full well that your child is more than aware. It is however, still very important to have these chats with your children – just know that the topics such as sex and relationships now have to be put into the context of the internet.
When talking about sex, make sure they understand what is right and wrong online, particularly with regards to sexting or sharing explicit images and consent. Issues like this can seem extremely blurry but it’s your job as a parent to educate yourself so you can inform your teen as much as possible.
What are your top tips for bringing up a teenager? Let us know on social media by using the hashtag #MyIrishLife
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