I've been talking with quite a few parents lately about how they run things at home - and how confusion can set in for them, when children grow into adolescents, and can sound fairly smart and worldly, and can thereby be reasonably convincing about letting parents know that their guidance is no longer required!
I usually encourage parents to remain in charge - that whilst it's important to respect the young person's growing need for independence and increased freedom, their worlds, and functioning in general, works better when there is structure in place, or to put it simply, when they know what is expected of them. Indeed, knowing what is expected of us in different situations makes all of us function better - regardless of our age.
I hear increasingly of kids having no real bedtime as such, and but more worryingly, having no restrictions over use of digital technology late in to the night. Meanwhile parents often know that although this might not be OK, they are likely to get a verbal barrage, if they try and impose any boundaries around this - and so they don't. This can then mean that teenagers, who through a lack of containment around internet access, are often gaming, or on social media until the wee small hours. There are a lot of flow-on effects from this, in that they struggle to get up in the mornings, and over time they don't function well in school because they are chronically sleep-deprived. Consequently they are increasingly out of sync with their families, and the wider world and are not doing well at all the tasks and challenges of this life-stage. What is also becoming apparent, is that many young people are developing raging internet addictions, and spending up to twelve plus hours a day online no longer seems unusual.
Naturally enough, things can get pretty ugly for parents when they try to intervene in this sort of behaviour - yet to not do so, is to enable them and have things get worse. To let it go, for fear of the young person throwing a major hissy fit, does not do them any favours - there will be a continued decline in the young person's health and general well-being.
Part of parenting an adolescent, is preparing them to do OK in the world - and whilst parents, and maybe schools can turn an occasional blind eye to a person who is frequently tired, irritable and unhealthy looking, future employers are not likely to be so forgiving.
So what can parents of adolescents do:
1) Think about the presence of technology in the house: do people take it for granted? Or can it become a parenting resource, whereby access is not freely given, but is a reward for people who fit in with the rest of the household with regards to appropriate sleep hours, who make time to spend with family members, and pitch in with the running of the household. It's important too, as in all aspects of family life, that parents think about what they are role-modelling for their young people. I hear increasingly from adolescents about parents who they want to talk with about something, to find time and again, that the parents are distracted with Facebook. Parents who initiate 8 hours of the household being unplugged each night - even if they need to take the router with them to bed - notice after a while how everyone functions better.
2) When trying to do some things differently, expect that it might get worse before it gets better... this is especially so, when parents try to take charge of excessive internet usage, or other areas of their kid's life that they might have let slide. In the early stages of trying to change things, parents should expect major meltdowns - especially so, if this has worked for the young person in the past. But if parents can stand their ground, the young person will (eventually!) come on board. And remember too, kids actually function better, when there are boundaries, and when they know what is expected of them.
3) It's really important for parents to model calm, rational behaviour, even if it seems the young person is trying to wind them up. I often hear parents complaining about teenagers who nut out, lose the plot, yell, swear, or kick holes in walls. Yet further discussion discloses that the whole house can be volatile, that parents rant and rave, and even get physical themselves. So they role-model aggressive or volatile behaviour, then seem genuinely puzzled (or even irate) when their young person starts flexing their own muscles in similar ways... Hmmmm.
4) Notice the good stuff that is happening. There is usually some good stuff going on, but parents can often not see this, if they have been distracted by the not OK stuff. But there are two important reasons for looking out (and you actually may have to consciously look out for it) and commenting on the good stuff. One is that if you tell a young person they are doing something well, then there's a good chance they'll do more of it for you (like most of us will). The other reason is that the young person will be more receptive to being pulled up or challenged about something, if this is happening within a more balanced atmosphere of also being praised for things they do well.
5) Keep the communication happening. I often hear how parents stop enquiring about what is going on in the life of their adolescent, because "I only get a grunt back." It's important that parents keep doing it anyway - even if weeks and months go by with little coming back their way. There are actually three reasons for doing this. One is that the adult needs to role-model how healthy communication works. The second reason is that the young person (and some of them are actually quite talkative anyway) will come out of this, and will notice that you hung in there, even if it was largely one way traffic for a while. And the third reason is that by remaining communicative with the young person, you stay connected with them, which increases the chances of them coming to you, when there is a big issue in their life. Kids don't tend to go adults who they see as being remote or uncommunicative.
So - five pointers to make life run more easily with adolescents under your roof... I'll be covering the other 40,000 pointers in the weeks ahead..... Or not! Seriously though, if you are really needing some support or input with stuff I've mentioned here, please feel free to contact me.
"Some occasional thoughts about families, relationships, and other things that distract us...."