Parenting a teenager can be a challenge – and made more challenging by the fact that somehow, a lot of adults seem to have forgotten what it’s really like to be a teenager. Also, what we do remember is conveniently stored in such a way that it leaves out what nightmares we were for our own parents!Furthermore there are a lot more pressures out there for teenagers then there used to be for us. The media is constantly bombarding them with images and messages that are dangerous and unsafe and confusing. There are more adult role models behaving poorly than there used to be – at least that’s how it seems right?
There are many temptations when it comes to parenting- the urge to control everything down to the new haircut, or the temptation to control in a different way by being your teen’s friend. Neither extreme works unfortunately, and being an effective and responsible parent will mean making unpopular decisions and being told you are awful many times and in many ways!
The good news is that they do grow up and will most likely be healthy functioning adults at the end of it.
You’ll make mistakes!
There are so many parenting programs out there right now that parents are inclined to be self critical and afraid that they are ‘messing up’ their kids. While I’m all for vigilance, it’s important not to beat yourself up every time you make a mistake.
And you will make mistakes – lots of them! Just as your parents did and theirs and so on. There are no expert parents. I’m not even comfortable with the term parenting expert. It’s just too complex.
Is therapy appropriate for your teen?
If your teen is behaving in ways that you are concerned about and look like more than ‘normal teenaged behaviour’ then counselling/therapy for you or for them might be useful. Sometimes parents and teens come together for sessions, more often though, the teenager comes by him/ herself. It is important to respect their privacy. They see themselves as adults so to treat them as children will feel condescending.
For you as a parent it is really important to know that having a child in therapy is NOT a sign of failure as a parent- quite the opposite in fact. It means you have heard them and seen them finding it difficult, and you have accessed support for them in a way that they can be independent of you and have their own private space. What a gift for a teenager!
Even though counselling has become more mainstream now there can still be some stigma around it and so do let your teen know that it is normal to have difficulties and that it is brave, not cowardly, to seek help.
If they see you being ashamed, they will feel shame. If they see you being at ease, they will be more likely to feel that ease themselves.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ behavior with teenagers. As a quick guide to what is NOT NORMAL I would suggest the following:
- If they used to sleep really well and now don’t.
- If they suddenly start sleeping for longer.
- If they stop eating with the family and being secretive about their food.
- If they dump old friends and get new ones in a short period of time.
- If they stop socializing.
- If they engage in risk taking or self harming behavior.
- If you find drug paraphernalia. And if you don’t know what this is- time to learn!(Visit here: http://www.theantidrug.com/ei/watch_for.asp
- If they are grieving and appear to be making no recovery when a year or more has passed. (Please seehttp://www.barnardos.ie/information-centre/young-people/teen-help/death…. which I co-authored while working in Barnardos as grief therapist for children and families.
- If there is a severe drop in school work standards and interest.
- If there is school avoidance.
These are often signs that something is going on in your teen’s life that needs to be addressed. Often teens will behave in ways to flag their feelings and ‘get’ you to do something about it. It can be difficult to ask for help straight out at any age.
In my experience teenagers respond very well to therapy and often the work is shorter than it is with adults. Perhaps this is because they are younger, have less ‘baggage’ and are already in the habit of learning new things by virtue of the fact that they are still being educated.
Things to note:
While the space for a teenager is confidential, I am ethically bound to report anything that concerns me or that I consider a child protection issue. I always explain this clearly to both parents and their teenagers so that everything is transparent. I will never do anything behind your back. In this way I hope to make therapy feel safe for both of you.
If during the course of therapy it becomes apparent that your teenager is addicted to a drug or alcohol I may refer you to a specialised treatment centre. If your teenager is at risk through disordered eating I will be requesting that the family GP become involved in his or her therapy. A referral to a treatment centre may happen here too. If your child discloses sexual or physical abuse the Child Protection Services must and will become involved.