There is something I’ve been wondering about for a long time. In fact ever since my eldest turned thirteen a number of years ago. I am wondering why do parents of teenagers never need advice?
You may be wondering what I am talking about, but it is simple. Before we ever give birth, we are provided with a wealth of information. Before our children are even born, we get to read books about healthy pregnancy, preparations for birth, and finally books on birth itself.
Once our baby is born we are spoiled for choice. There are books about bonding, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, sleeping, weaning, first foods, potty training etc.
I think it would be fair to say that there are a very large number of books on every topic imaginable.
As parents, we devour these books, and spend an endless amount of time asking our friends and other parents advice on all manner of issues we have with our little ones. Crying babies, fussy eaters, reluctant potty goers. You name the issue, there is a book on the subject.
What about acne, anxiety, depression? Alcohol, cigarettes and drug abuse? What about questionable friends, or no friends? Studying too little or too much, school choices, cyber bullying, social media overuse?
To my mind, each one of these issues is of a more worrying and serious nature than potty training or fussy eating. However in the main, they are rarely discussed. Certainly not openly, and if my local bookshop is anything to go by, not in written form either.
My own belief is that it is widely accepted that babies are difficult. A child who is a fussy eater will eventually eat, a child who is a bad sleeper will eventually learn to settle alone and sleep all night. No one believes they will continue to have these issues for life. However sometimes parents of teenagers forget these years will draw to a close and our adult children will emerge.
As our children grow up for a time, life settles down. Our ten, eleven or twelve year olds are easily managed. School is not a major issue, and their other activities such as music or sport are a big part of their life.
Then as if over night everything changes.
It begins slowly, with perhaps an increase in moodiness and aggression. They begin to challenge authority. We don’t take it all too seriously acknowledging they are just growing up. We even smile and remark “teenager”, in a mock despair. However in no time at all their behaviour may become more challenging. We are sucked into arguments we do not want to have and the whole atmosphere in the house changes.
There are arguments about not being allowed to go out, and what time to come in. About attitude and aggresion. There are major disagreements about friends, clothes, and piercings. There is a time in our lives as parents of teenagers, when our patience and tempers are tested to extremes. We meet situations which leave us stunned or confused. Our trust for our young teenagers is often tested, and our anxiety levels are high. “Are they gone where they said they were going?”. “Are they drinking, or worse?”. “How can we make them see they are making poor choices?”.
Life for parents of teenagers can be difficult, and has a knock on effect for all the family. Yet in my experience, most parents of teenagers say nothing. When asked, “How is your daughter getting on? Most will reply, “Oh great, settled into school well thanks”. The reality may be she is doing no homework, wants to be out with her friends all the time, you know she is smoking and last week she was brought home drunk. This is not an exaggeration. It is the reality for many good parents of good teenagers. That is the point that is missed. Good parents of good teenagers. Because despite their bad behaviour and poor choices, for many teenagers their behaviour is just a phase, part and parcel of growing up.
However it is an embarrassing phase for most parents. For many it can feel like failure, and just like when our children were tiny, it can seem as if it will never end. As parents we do our best to protect our children. No one wants the neighbour up the road with the twitching curtain, to hear what really happened at the party up the road. We don’t want our child to get a bad name. So we live in silence, telling no one and living a lie.
I often think as I look at all those baby books what a terrible shame it is that so many parents of teenagers do not ask for help. Because just as when our children were small, it is a huge relief to know we are not alone. It is sad to think that friends who have shared so much over many years, may decide this is family business and stay quiet.
Maybe if we did share more often we would be better equipped to cope with bad behaviour. That by pooling advice, just as we did when they were children, we might better parent our teenagers. If not, at least we would know we are not alone, and that if we hang in there our wild, difficult teenager will evolve into a young adult any parent would be proud of.