Bringing up teenagers is incredibly rewarding - particularly when they're about 21 and are surprised by how much their parents have learned in the last seven years!
I'm a mother to three boys - aged 26, 23 and soon to be 13. I'm also godmother to a beautiful 18-year-old girl for whom I assumed a motherly role when her real mum (one of my best and dearest friends) died three years ago.
The forthcoming transition of my youngest son into the role of teenager caused me to reflect on what I got right and what mistakes I made in the past, and so I asked my two eldest sons and my goddaughter for their input. The major theme from the feedback was consistency.
Rules must always be consistent
No matter what the rules are in a household, teenagers will adapt to them and work around them provided that they are consistent and also that parents are totally aligned on them.
Mum and Dad can disagree in private but they must present a united front to the family, otherwise they will get played off against each other and all relationships will suffer - including your marriage.
On the other hand it doesn't matter as much if Grandma and Grandad have different rules in their house even if they are playing the role of carer. As a working mother, my children had nannies growing up and they have run rings around them, getting away with things that they would never dream of with me.
Teenagers are masters of manipulation
We are all designed to behave in a way that gets us what we want and children are really good at it. By the time they are teenagers they are masters at it. As soon as a boundary is laid down, it will get tested and they know exactly which buttons to push in order to test it.
Once that boundary is broken, it's incredibly difficult to reinstate it.
For example, if you ground them for a week and then you give in before the week is up, the next time you ground them for a week they won't believe you and they will keep pushing and pushing until you give in again. The next time it will be even worse still.
No parent wants to inflict consequences but we have no choice. We have to reinforce the boundaries that we set otherwise our lives will be a misery.
If you think it's difficult reinforcing boundaries with your teenagers in the first place, then you don't even want to have to experience life when they've been broken and need to be reinstated.
Make sure rules and boundaries are realistic
Before you set a boundary, it's really useful to put it through the "reasonable test". Let's say that you're thinking about a curfew for your 15-year-old. Firstly, do some research online to find out what parents of other 15-year-olds impose as a curfew nationally.
Secondly, and more importantly, talk to local parents in the same school year as your teenager. What are their views? Are yours out of line?
It doesn't mean that you're wrong, but it does mean that you will get a lot of pushback from your teenager if all their friends have different rules, and you need to be prepared for it.
Finally, consider any special circumstances that apply to your personal situation such as, say, transport services. How frequent are they? And how reliable are they? Is it practical for them to get home at the time you say?
I had a client who imposed an 11pm curfew but the buses ran every hour, getting her teenager home at 15 minutes past the hour. So their choice was to break the curfew by 15 minutes or arrive home 45 minutes early. I'm sure you can guess which choice was favoured every time!
Keeping the peace - my top tips
So, in summary, being consistent, reasonable and practical are definitely up there on the priority list when you're sharing your home with a teenager. My other top tips would be:
- Open your home to them and their friends - within your boundaries of course - and make it a safe place where they can hang out in relative privacy, particularly from siblings. That way you know where they are, who they are hanging around with and what influences are at play.
- Encourage activity as an outlet for all that pent up energy. Sport, dance, music, horse riding, Army Cadets - whatever keeps them occupied - will also help to keep them out of trouble.
- Link whatever weekly or monthly allowance you give them to chores around the house and be very robust about not paying if the chores don't get done. Better still, a small part-time job. My eldest son will tell you that the day he discovered how hard it was to earn £20 was life-changing for both him and me!
- And finally, maintain your sense of humour! You will really miss them when they're grown and gone and in the meantime, laughter is the very best therapy to get you through it.
I specialise in helping stressed out parents to restore harmony in their home. To find out more and book a one-to-one session, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org