Monday, 9 September 2013

Living with teenagers ~ part 1

If you're the parent of toddlers, or even children under the age of 10, you may be wondering what it'll be like when they're teenagers. From the age of about 10 (especially for girls) there is a subtle but steady transition from child to teenager and it does give you a bit of an insight into how life will be with teens.

Just to ease you in gently, there are plenty of reasons to like your teenagers, so let's start off with some advantages:
  • they can dress themselves, and choose their own clothes (yes, this can also be a point of conflict but I'm keeping things upbeat here, ok?)
  • you will can get fashion advice from them;
  • you can (in theory) have a decent conversation with them;
  • they can usually entertain themselves for a few hours while you spent time on the computer do important stuff;
  • they can wash and bathe themselves - so there's no more bath time battles, although now the problem will be getting them out of the bathroom!
  • they can help with more housework, especially putting a wash on, ironing their own clothes and keeping their bedrooms tidy. Although more on this in a minute.

If you can overlook the occasional hissy fit and banshee like behaviour (yours, not theirs) it's no more difficult than when they were going through the terrible twos, and it's the same sort of process: the child is pushing for more independence and power while the parent might be resisting it or trying to adapt to the changes in their precious offspring. Of course the main difference is trying to discipline a child when they're the same height as you (or taller) and they have an answer for everything.

Understanding a little about the development of the teenage brain might explain why they often behave the way they do. The frontal lobe of the brain is the ‘decision making’ part of the brain and controls impulses and reasoning. Studies show that the frontal cortex of the brain isn’t completely developed until a person is well into their twenties, so the brain of a teenager is still very much a work in progress. Combine that with a huge surge in hormones, the changes happening to their bodies and the pressure of exams it's no surprise that teenagers find life a bit tricky sometimes.

I'm no expert by any means, after all my teenagers are still, well, teenagers so we won't know how they properly turned out for a few years yet, but if how they are now is anything to go by they're developing into very decent young adults. Yes, there's moodiness and arguments, eye rolling and stroppiness, but they're also polite, independent girls who treat others with respect and can hold a decent conversation with adults. They've also got plenty to say for themselves (I have no idea where they get that from) and work hard at school and I know plenty of other families with teenagers who are, by and large, very nice kids.

My advice from my limited experience with teenagers would be to choose your battles.

For example, the biggest issue I used to have with the Teenager was about her untidiness and the fact that her bedroom was an absolutely disgusting mess. If I went anywhere near her bedroom I would get stressed about it was and start ranting. Of course, she'd get angry with me for going in her bedroom and it would cause lots of arguments.

This went on for quite a while until a very wise friend asked me why I got so upset about it. "When you look back on this time in 5-10 years time, will it really have mattered that much? And is it worth damaging your relationship over it?"

Of course, she was right. It wasn't worth it, and in the grand scheme of things it wasn't that important. I decided to be less hung up about it and concentrate on all the other things she did right - and there were plenty. I can't say it was easy, but I just stopped nagging her about her room. Of course, as soon as I stopped nagging she started keeping her room tidy tidier and although it's far from spotless, it's miles better than it was and minus the tension between us.

In all honesty, teenagers are not that bad, and after all we were all teenagers once and look how well that turned out!

And because I don't have all the answers I've asked some other parents for their tips on how to survive the teenage years unscathed, and I'll be sharing their advice in a couple of days time. Watch this space.