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Elena Barbiero Headshot

Parenting Teenagers: Making Mistakes

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The teenage years, a little like the 'terrible twos', are a stepping stone in the individual's development: from baby to toddler, and from child to young adult. They each indicate the transition from one important stage to a very different one: but why is it often so challenging to deal with teenagers? When a toddler starts exploring the world, he/she wants to do in her own terms: so does a teenager, except that it's a kind of exploration that will lead into adulthood, rather than enhanced social skills or forming perception of the world. It can indeed be challenging for a parent to go through this transition: after all, things seemed to have gone quite well so far, or?

Making mistakes is a part of growing up, and you have to accept that both you and your child will make a mistake or two, and hope you'll learn in the process. You have nurtured a happy, sociable, intelligent and popular child, who seemed to enjoy family life and school: all of a sudden, parents are not that cool anymore. Actually, worse than that: there is a long list of 'failings' and imperfections in what seemed to be perfectly adequate before. There are very direct attacks: 'you don't understand anything', 'my friends are better than you', 'I don't like you anymore', 'get out of my room', and so on.

Believe it or not, it's a healthy sign: it means that there is the space and trust to do that. So, if all of a sudden you have become uncool, old fashioned, embarrassing and better not to be seen with, you should pat yourself on the shoulder and congratulate yourself on your good parenting skills. In a situation that is truly tragic, the child cannot afford to challenge the parent. Think for example in a case where there is alcoholism, domestic violence, poverty; the energies of that child are often spent in supporting the parent or for mere emotional survival.

Hostility and attacks are often not about the parent; it's about the child, and asserting independence and individuality. It's vital, above all, to always maintain a bond of trust and the lines of communication open, because if you lose them, somebody else will 'get' them: it's sometimes difficult because many of the attacks are genuinely unfair and hurtful, from an adult perspective. But remember, you are not dealing with an adult mind (supposedly 'mature', although there's a lot to say about the maturity of some adults). You are dealing with someone who is probably a bit confused about their changing body, the future, and above all a bit scared of morphing into an adult: many children want to remain children, and find it difficult to deal with the changes that affect their bodies.

This obviously leads to making decisions that are often less than well thought through: my personal stance is, let them make their own mistakes. That's right, we've all been there: you can see it coming because you have the experience and knowledge you have acquired through your years. Basically, if it's not life threatening and a mistake that will mark them indefinitely, let them experience that: it will give your son or daughter awareness and a good lesson learnt.

Of course, if we have a look at what goes on in the world, there are reasons to worry: what about drugs, for example, or sexuality, bad influences? A lot comes down to how you live your life as a parent: we most and foremost lead by example. Always expect them to be the best person they can be, parents' influence is always the strongest indicator: if you give your children healthy values and perspective, they will be able to swim through life and find their way thanks to that.

We all make mistakes, as parents and as children. All humans make mistakes: you can forgive yours, and you can forgive an unkind word from your child, uttered in an act of defiance and independence. The relationship between a child and parent should be one of life long 'friendship', and possibly the various teen-age tantrums something to laugh about a little bit later.