My new book, Finding Stevie, highlights some of the challenges young people face today. Being a teenager isn’t easy but it can be made easier by the adults responsible for them. Here are a few of my golden rules...
1. Respect privacy: Privacy is very important for a young person of this age. Knock, if their bedroom door is closed, before going in. Don’t read your child’s letters, emails or texts, listen to their phone conversations, spy on them or search their room or bags, unless you have grave concerns for their safety. And don’t give them the third degree every time they return home from seeing their friends – they will resent it. Trust their judgement unless they give you cause not to.
2. Hear their views: Young people have a lot of views about lots of things and will want to express them. Some of what your teen tells you as fact will be absolute nonsense. One teenage girl I fostered announced she couldn’t wash her hair while she had a period as it would make her ill, while a teenage boy told me that the earth changed the direction of its rotation every year with such conviction that I went online and checked. (It doesn’t, of course.) Listen to what your young person says, and always take his or her view seriously. If you know what they are saying is wrong or misguided, gently explain what is generally held to be true.
3. Communicate: Keep the pathways of communication open, no matter how difficult it is. Ask for your young person’s opinion about anything that might elicit a response – world events, a new outfit, the poodle’s new hair cut; and ask about his or her day at school, or evening with a friend, but don’t pry.
4. Praise: Praise your young person as much if not more than you did when they were young. A drop in self-confidence and poor body image is the blight of many teens. Praise them each day. Even if you have had a bad time, with their seeming to relish confrontation, still find something good to say about them or what they have done.
5. Don’t criticise: Children of this age are very sensitive to criticism, often seeing and feeling it even where there is none. If your young person’s behaviour is unacceptable and needs altering, or they have made a really bad decision, don’t criticise them personally. Temper it: ‘I don’t think that was the best option, do you?’
6. Guide: Steer your young person to the correct decision. Children of this age need guidance more than ever; it’s just that they don’t always realise it. Don’t be tempted to ‘throw in the towel’ and give in – ‘All right! Do it your way then!
7. Maintain family time: Keep family time, and go on outings (despite your teen’s grumbles). Doing this helps cement family relationships and reduces confrontation and rebelliousness
8. Give responsibility: Give your young person age-appropriate responsibility and encourage self-reliance so that they gradually develop the life skills on which to base their own (sensible) decisions.
9. Maintain safety: A young teen can sometimes show an astonishing disregard for danger and indulge in very unsafe behaviour, then look totally amazed when you point out that they are at risk. At this age teens are still very naïve, and while they believe they know how to stay safe, they often don’t, for example the lad in Finding Stevie. They are only just out of childhood and haven’t the life experience to recognise danger.
10. Don’t tease: Don’t make fun of your young person or their actions, some of which may appear quite juvenile and silly. Many adults have problems being on the receiving end of a joke and your adolescent will certainly not be able to cope with it. They will take it personally and will feel very embarrassed and resentful, especially if there is an audience and everyone has looked at them and laughed.
11. Don’t take it personally: Don’t expect a lot back in the way of positive recognition for your care and concern on any matter at this age. Look upon everything you say and do for your young person during this period as an investment in their future and for a smoother ride later.
I hope this helps. More suggestions for parenting children and young people can be found in my book Happy Kids.
Finding Stevie by Cathy Glass is out now (Harper Element, £7.99).