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Why Parenting Teenagers in the 21st Century Is Harder Than Ever

08/09/2015 17:46 BST | Updated 08/09/2016 10:12 BST

Having spent the last two years researching and writing about Generation Z (those born between roughly 1995-2001), there is only one group of people, I think, are facing as much challenge and change as them: their parents.

The struggle of being a parent to a teenager is a long documented one: the slammed doors, the wild mood swings, the homework meltdowns, the arguments, and the realisation your once little darling is growing parts that are turning them from sweet to something distinctly more sexual.

However, whilst parenting a teen has always been more of a demented rollercoaster ride in the dark than gentle waltz, I would argue that the 21st Century presents unprecedented problems and pitfalls.

The big one is undoubtedly technology. For grownups technology means convenience and entertainment. For teenagers, technology means life. Every part of their existence is informed and shaped by technology from the way they socialise to the way they learn - and most of them spend every waking hour hooked up to it in some form or another. Too much of anything is arguably not good for us, and teenagers' voracious consumption of technology can and sometimes does lead to bad and damaging things.

Cyberbullying, hardcore pornography, internet trolls and nasty websites are all facts of the internet - and something that will be a feature of your teens' online life. It's not a question of if, but rather when, and how much. I've spent a lot of time both observing and discussing the cyber-life of teens, and believe me, they are rarely online for six hours straight only studying or playing scrabble.

When asked by parents how to deal with this inescapable fact of modern teen life, my advice is always calm pragmatism. Unless you are planning on joining an Amish community, you can't stop your teen from either going online or looking at things other than cat videos and BBC Bitesize.

So approach the internet talk, like you would the sex talk and be clear, honest and non-hysterical. Tell them that there are things on the internet that might seem naughty or funny, but are in fact probably staged, made up, or might well have hurt someone (or several people) in the creation of them.

And most of all - and be absolutely clear on this - tell them both bullying someone or being bullied is utterly unacceptable and not to be tolerated.

When teenagers learn that cyberbullying is an actual crime they tend to look either relieved or worried - and it's really important they get that message loud and clear both to protect them from be bullied and censure potential bad or daft online behavior.

Another huge challenge facing parents is establishing a healthy work/life balance for their teenager. The debate rages whether we should adopt the East Asian model of ferocious hours and pressure on our kids or the more holistic and laidback Scandinavian model.

The efficacy of different education systems aside, I would strongly argue for realistic ambition for your teenager. Most teenagers aren't going to become concert pianists, world-class footballers, or astrophysicists. However they absolutely should be encouraged to pursue things they are good at - and also not so good at - whether it's languages, sport, science or dancing.

And most of all, celebrate, celebrate and celebrate again, their personal achievements. We live in a world where we only ever hear about the absolute top or absolute bottom of teenagers. We either get the endless media coverage about the kids who got 13A*s or the 16-year-old kid who mugged an old lady for 50p and can't spell.

This often leaves most of the other teenagers feeling devalued or attacked. If your teenager has really worked for a 'C' in Maths or to become a better writer, or a moderately competent rugby player, this absolutely is a huge achievement and should be recognised as such.

The competition for teenagers in the 21st century to be the best is one they are all too aware of: get the best job, go to the best university, be the best looking, have the best body, own the best car etc. But this is a competition they can't possibly win. The amount of teenagers I've met that are driving themselves mad trying to beat impossible odds is tragic.

Because the best doesn't really exist. What is the best job/university/looks/body/car etc? It all depends on the person you are asking.

The message parents should give to their teenagers is to be the best person they can be - and if you do that, I promise they will turn out to be kind, hardworking, smart, decent, and eventually stop telling you they hate you.

Chloe Combi is the author of Generation Z, published in paperback by Windmill, £8.99