Do not give your teenage kids an excuse to rebel

IN conversation, the word "teenager" is more often accompanied by sighs and rolling eyes than any other word I can think of.

As a therapist and mother of four "successful" teenagers - two girls and two boys - I feel qualified to speak on this controversial subject.

What do we mothers want from our teenagers? What do I mean by successful? We want to feel that they are staying on "the right path".

For religious parents, this may mean that they go to shul, keep kosher or abstain from pre-marital relationships with the opposite sex, depending on the level of the families' religious observance.

For families who are not religious, it may mean ensuring that their teens are maximising their potential at school, to achieve the grades of which they are capable in public exams. It may also mean behaving well at home and at school, not abusing alcohol or drugs or getting piercings or tattoos.

Whatever the particular culture of our family, our teens will be expected to conform to a greater or lesser extent and we will measure their success (and therefore our success as parents) by that yardstick.

We want to be proud of our teens, not embarrassed by the way they dress or behave.

We want them to be kind, loyal, loving, hard-working, confident, sociable and high-achievers so we feel that we have done a great job. What if we don't?

The temperament a child is born with and the presence or absence of negative life-events (like divorce, death or illness) may determine how difficult it is to guide them in the direction we want.

Some children are easy-going, others stubborn and prone to anger. Some characters are motivated and energetic; others tend to be cautious and melancholic.

What can parents do to maximise their success?

Discipline needs to be in place before the teenage years begin and given a reasonable parent/child relationship is present at 12 years old, the next seven years can be navigated.

The most important thing parents of teenagers must remember is the well-worn but vital phrase "pick your battles!".

Research during the past 10 years, powered by technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), has revealed that young brains have both fast-growing synapses and sections that remain unconnected.

This leaves teens easily influenced by their environment and more prone to impulsive behaviour.

When we add to this the huge increase in hormones necessary for development at this time and the fact that teenagers need to develop their identity by asserting their independence, it's unsurprising that parents struggle. Only by rejecting their parents' life-views will teenagers decide for themselves what their own life-view really is.

Some teens will consider this quietly in their heads and, if they have good relationships with their parents and enjoy their home life, they may be happy to follow the path their parents have prescribed.

Other teens - perhaps those who feel less accepted at home or in school or who find their parents' expectations onerous or inconsistent - may aggressively reject their parents' lifestyles.

This is where "choosing battles" comes in to play. Even the best teenagers will not do exactly what we want. They may dress in a way we don't like, have hairstyles we can't stand, fail their exams, spend money in ways that we don't approve, be messy or lazy at home, go to school late . . . believe me, I could continue!

However, as parents it is vital that we let teenagers develop their own personalities and make their own mistakes.

Decide what your priorities are, maybe one or two things that you cannot compromise on and ignore the rest. The key to the successful parenting of teens is the self-control of the parent!

For example, if your priority is prompt and conscientious school attendance that you achieve by nagging your child, then leave it at that.

Don't nag about their messy bedroom because you have to make sure that you have more positive interactions than negative ones. Search hard to find things to praise. It takes minutes to throw dirty washing in the laundry and straighten a room yourself.

There is no benefit in fighting about it and when they grow up they will do it themselves anyway.

Your teen wants to feel that you are proud of them and, if you keep telling them that they are embarrassing and disappointing, they will give up.

"Giving up" because they can't cope with fulfilling all of their parents' demands is what leads kids to rebel, bringing with it all the destructive behaviour that accompanies it.


© 2017 Jewish Telegraph