Teenagers: Should we get on their level?


Teenagers are a hard group to understand. Where is the balance between friend and parent? Should we try and get on their level? Our teenager expert Julia Knight shares her thoughts on this topic. 


By Julia Knight


Should parents be on the same level as their teens?

The short answer is no. The long answer is slightly more difficult but there is a difference between empathetic parenting and being a friend. Teenagers do not appreciate adults who want to be their friend– why? It’s simply a bit weird, to use teen colloquialisms, a bit creepy. Empathetic parenting is where you understand and relate to your child but still administer the role of parent.

All children from newborns to teens respect routine and boundaries. As your child grows, it’s important to recognize that some of these boundaries shift such as bedtimes and privacy but every teen requires their parents to set a boundary.

The key words here are choice and consequence. Teach your children to be independent learners and thinkers that make the right choice. For example, an 11 year old, who has school in the morning, the choice is to stay up later than 9:30pm and the consequence is to be late for school which has another (possible) consequence of a late detention. However if the young person is choosing to play his or her X box when you have said no, then the consequence becomes one that you administer such as removal or a ban for a period of time. Just as you would give a timeout to a toddler or young child, the same applies to a teen. “You can have your X box back after two days” means two days not one hour. This might ensue a tantrum but the boundaries need to be clear from the outset. Teens respect clear boundaries and the clearer they are, the less likely they are to have a melt down.

If you ask any parent which stage they disliked the most, the usual answer is the terrible twos (and in my case the three-nager stage) and then the teenage years. Both have very similar attributes from the temper tantrums, to the uncontrollable tears to the all-out defiance. Both stages are an assertion of independence and it’s in the crucial years of 11-14 that a young person battles out for their place in society. If you have more than one child, you will probably be familiar with sibling fights over the smallest of things.  These fights, although difficult for parents to intercept or stop, are developing skills in communication, conflict and resolution management so while you may be pulling your hair out, you can rest assured it’s all normal cognitive behavior.


Use the right words

Language is key to ensuring your teen understands you, however don’t be patronizing or sarcastic in your tone. Keep it neutral and respectful as you would if you were dealing with an adult. The old adage of showing respect to gain respect is really important when dealing with teens. They are often caught in furor of emotions that veer from child like behavior to believing they are adults and usually in the right. Ask them to use their words carefully and agree on a way forward. Use phrases such as “I know you are feeling cross/hurt/angry however this is because….I am sorry you feel that way, however you broke the rule and you set the consequence of. When you are prepared to listen and talk, I am ready.”


How to handle a dispute with your  teen

  • Explain you will only speak when they are listening.
  • Listen and don’t interrupt them (even if what they are saying annoys you!).
  • Keep calm and refrain from shouting.
  • If your teen shouts at you, explain calmly that you will only listen when they stop.
  • Have your discussion sitting down; you can use the dining table to create a barrier between you and to formalize the situation. If your teen is angry and wants to scream, shout and walk around then allow them to do so but don’t react.
  • Agree with one or two points they make. Don’t concede but allow them to see you are listening and are reasonable.
  • Agree on a consequence and don’t go back on it.
  • Allow them to choose their own punishment or boundary.

This is the single most effective way forward with teens. For example, you ask them to be in at 10:30pm and say, “what will happen if you are not?” They may opt for hyperbole and say they are never allowed out again but swing them towards something more realistic such as they will have to stay in Saturday night and babysit.

Ultimately, you can not be their friend. Listen, empathize, and set boundaries.

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