Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Parenting Teenagers - my talk today

Today I'm in Lancashire, doing a talk on the teenage brain for professionals as part of the Lancashire Children's and Young People's Trust. Before I catch the train, I thought I'd quickly put some tips up here, as I won't have time to go through them today. The main part of my talk is NOT parenting tips, because I am NOT some kind of older Supernanny, but the programme does say that one of the outcomes will be a better understanding about how to parent teenagers. I don't much like seeming to think I'm some kind of expert parent (ask my daughters about that) but I know it tends to be what people want. What I mostly want to talk about is how fascinating the brain is.

These tips won't make the fullest sense if you weren't there to hear me talk about what's going on in the brain during adolescence, but you know you can always read Blame My Brain for that...

Some tips for being a parent to teenagers

1. Understand some of the reasons for adolescent behaviour – this removes a sense of blame. (Lots of explanations in Blame My Brain.)

2. We have to learn to be parent of a teenager after being the parent of child. The parent of a child has a mission to protect. The parent of a teenager has to go against her/his own nature and resist that paramount desire to protect. The teenager needs to push against that in order to attain the evolutionary goal of both sides: independence.

3. Boundaries – if we set boundaries, they know we care (even though they may not show it!); they also like something to fight against. So, set your boundaries carefully and be prepared to be a bit flexible. A negotiated boundary is stronger than a rigid autocratic one.

4. Choose your moment to have a conversation - do you like being interrupted when you're relaxing or engrossed in something. Negotiate when the conversation will take place, if necessary.

5. Modelling good behaviour - we learn partly by imitation. As your teenager watches you managing to control your emotion, his own brain is preparing to imitate that. And vice versa...

6. Choose the battles to fight - do untidy bedrooms matter? On the other hand, some battles over less emotional/critical issues are safer grounds and may be satisfying to the teenager.

7. Sleep – operate sleep hygiene rules (certain activities to be avoided or encouraged during hour before desired sleep time); set bedtimes. (Interesting research suggests this may help a lot).

8. We are less responsible than we think. We can get all this right and still our teenager may struggle. Don't beat yourself up.

9. Put ourselves in their shoes – recognise how we bristle if given advice/criticism. So, treat your teenager more as an adult than as a child in how you talk to them. This takes a long time for parents to learn to do!

I'll have more details later but just now I must rush to my train...

Do comment!


  1. Great tips. Also, I found that when mine came in from school/out with friends etc, apart from a quick 'how was your day?' giving them space and let them come to me in their own time to chat, which led to an opening up rather than a clamming up.

    1. Yup, I think that's usually good, and I found it hard, too. On the other hand, I found that by the time my husband came home, they'd said all they wanted to say and wouldn't say it again!

  2. Currently in the throes of a re-run of the Thomas-friend to Star Wars Blitz Boy transformation, only this time with pubic hair and dubstep attached. Very much helps to remember by own uncontrollable desire to be an objectionable pain in the arse.

    Currently cutting slack like a filleter of fish aboard a modest protein ark.

  3. I like Vee's tip. I tend to rush wanting info about party, trip, school and get the clam up syndrome. Drives me mad. But I got a text the other day from a daughter asking where I was because she felt like a good complaining session. I felt oddly chuffed. Lesson? Make self scarce and you too can become sorely missed dart board. Yay.

  4. get them in the car - driving with them somewhere can be the best chance to talk. And I'm with you on the sleep one - I struggle with this idea that teenagers are wired to be more nocturnal. Sure if you go to bed late you wake up late but that's just a habit. I don't remember me or my peers being especially nocturnal when we were teens

  5. Melinda, they vary. I have a teen with post-traumatic stress disorder and she *cannot* sleep at night as she can no longer bear being in the dark, unprotected. I'm sure there is a whole spectrum of nocturnalness, and that sleep issues are often related to something else, whether physical or emotional, that is not just stroppiness or habit.

    I've had one easy teen and one very difficult. For years I assumed the difficult one could become easy. But in the end, I've accepted that all I can offer is kindness and tolerance. She is still difficult - but I now recognise it's more difficult for her than for me.

  6. Melinda and Anon - re sleep, while there will be exceptions (such as Anon's example of a teen with reasons for fearing or not wanting sleep) there is a clearly established biological sleep difference between adolescence and earlier childhood. Teenagers have been shown on average to need more than an hour more sleep than a 9-10 year old or an adult, but also to have a body clock which switches melatonin production to around the same times as adults. Thus, most teenagers won't be sleepy till the same time (roughly) as adults. But they need more sleep.

    The sleep article linked to in my blog post is very interesting on the subject of parents setting a bedtime.

    It's not stroppiness or laziness - though we can all be stroppy or lazy and we can all enjoy a lie-in!

    Apologis for delay in commenting - I wasn't asleep!

  7. Mmm , as a teen I did go to a catholic girls school where the vibe was obedience and being uncomplaining. Sleeping in late just wasn't what we did whether we wanted to or not (although we did often stay up very late so I guess the obedience wasn't all encompassing)

    I have two easier children and one more difficult one - they just are who they are. Anonymous your comment about it being more difficult for them than for us is so true.


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