You used to think you knew your teen. But lately you’ve been wondering if you’re raising an adolescent or an alien. Whether they’re ducking curfew or coming home with more piercings than they left with, many behaviours at this age can be baffling to parents — even frustrating at times. Here’s how to know what is reasonable to expect from your teen.
Paula Hansen, who lives in Kitchener, Ont., says her 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son used to comply with her ban on offensive language. But lately her son has been pushing the boundaries when it comes to her swearing rules. His argument: Everyone says it, so what’s the big deal?
Expert says: It may be frustrating when your teen rebels against your rules by coming home late or swearing. But kids this age are learning to become independent and think for themselves. “These are good things, because they’re skills we want our children to have as adults,” says Kathie Sutherland, a parent education coordinator at Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre in Truro, N.S., currently seeing her fourth child through her teens.
Your response: While it’s still up to you to set limits that exist for your teen’s safety, some boundaries can be opened up for discussion. Hansen’s son has successfully negotiated the use of a few borderline swear words such as “pissed off.” “Sometimes I’ll say “Okay, if your teachers are using it, I guess it’s not as bad as I thought,” says his mom.
Is your child suddenly wearing black and sporting spiky hair when it seems like only yesterday all she would wear was pink?
Expert says: Teens are driven by a need to develop their own identity, says Calgary psychologist Scott Wooding, author of four parenting books including Hear Me, Hug Me, Trust Me: Parenting Today’s Teenager Effectively (Fitzhenry and Whiteside). “They’re just trying to be different from their parents.” Your teen’s newfound fashion sense may also be a way of demonstrating that they identify with a particular culture, style or celebrity.
Your response: Does that mean you should say yes to the nose ring? It’s still your call. But it’s worth hearing her out. Ask your child why she wants it and suggest she research the health risks before a decision is made. And try not to be overly critical of your teen’s style. As Sutherland points out, “From the kid’s point of view, you’re rejecting them.”
Does your teen complain bitterly or need reminders when it comes to emptying the dishwasher or folding the laundry? Some days, says Hansen, “getting my daughter to help around the house is like pulling teeth.”
Expert says: Wooding notes that the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for planning and impulse control, lags behind in development at this age. This means teens have trouble sequencing tasks and are easily distracted.
Your response: Since learning to do chores is a necessary life skill, help your child stay on task. He may need one-word reminders of the steps involved, like “dishes” or “sink” on his night to clear and wash up (avoid nagging, which is irritating and is tuned out by teens). Encouragement helps, too. “I suggest a combination between foreman and cheerleader,” says Wooding.
Is your child ditching you in favour of spending time with pals?
Expert says: That’s because along with his growing independence, having the approval of his peers is also very important to him right now. Don’t think your teen doesn’t want to be with you. “It just needs to be on his terms,” Wooding says.
Your response: To promote together time, go along with his interests, says Sutherland. “Family games night may need to be replaced with family night at the mall.” Still missing those heart-to-hearts? Instead of throwing yourself at your teen, wait for moments when he opens up on his own, Sutherland suggests. Her three sons rarely sought her out for conversation at this age. But there was one regular visit mom could rely on. “They would wander into the kitchen about 10 minutes before a meal was anticipated,” she says. “That was an opportunity to talk.”
Toronto freelance writer and mom Lisa Bendall has never outgrown her rebellion years.