Behaviour & Emotions

The teens are going to be okay!

Life of teenagers

This month we celebrate the 13th birthday of our firstborn, and my husband and I will dive headfirst into parenting teenagers. Just the way I’ve phrased that sentence says a lot about the mixed feelings we have in anticipation of this milestone! We’re a bit nervous, but trying to stay positive. So it was hugely encouraging to tune in to a recent event Parenting Place hosted on Facebook Live: Petra Bagust chatted with Parenting Place’s in-house psychologist Dr Linde-Marie Amersfoort and youth workers Zara Maslin and Paula Fakalata. This awesome foursome shared some absolute gold and I felt empowered to sift out the negativity from those previously mentioned mixed feelings, and get excited about the good times of raising teens!

Here are the highlights from a great interview – you can still find it on our Facebook page if you’d like to tune in for the full event.

It’s all about perspective

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that teenagers come with some bad PR, but as parents we don’t need to buy into it.

“We need to move away from the idea that teenagerdom is something that parents have to survive and ‘get through’. It’s definitely something parents get to enjoy. It’s this beautiful age of opportunity – finally we’ve brought our kids through toddlerhood, through primary school, through middle school and here they are – they can reason and argue and think about things in such a different way. They can challenge us – which is why we did all the work, right? We want them to be able to hold their own,” says Linde-Marie.

It’s this beautiful age of opportunity.

We do?! I remember my delightful toddlers ‘holding their own’… do I have the strength for my now-much-taller offspring exercising that same determination?! Yes, says Linde-Marie. This is the time where we show our young people that we are parenting through wisdom, not through power.

“Parenting through wisdom not through power means you allow your teenagers to discuss things with you, allowing them to argue with you and nut things out. And then, if they’re really good at it – change your mind! Because when you change your mind, because they’ve done a good job of convincing you, you show them that you parent out of reason and wisdom, and not out of power,” explains Linde-Marie.

Paula interjected at this point: “I’m just amazed – I’ve never heard a parent being so passionate about their child arguing!!” Admittedly I concur with his sentiments. But I’m also beginning to see the beauty here. And Petra adds further confirmation: “There is something to be said for having a valid contribution to make. We say all the time: We’re a team! But nobody wants to be in a team where they have no input or influence.”

We’re a team! But nobody wants to be in a team where they have no input or influence.

Linde-Marie offers a caution, however. When we have these discussions/arguments, it’s our responsibility as parents not to turn it into a power struggle. “When that happens, no one wins. We still have to have limits and boundaries and our kids will have learnt over the years what they can get away with saying and what they can’t. So, if you’ve been consistent through the years, your teenagers will soon get the message that ‘Hey, this conversation is over’. But you still have to give them a bit of leg room to have a go.”

It’s also important to note that as the adults of the family, parents should be really hard to offend, modelling open-mindedness and being responsive rather than reactive.

Listen to listen

Zara shares some inspiring insights into connecting with teenagers, reminding us of the power of listening to listen – rather than listening to give advice! “Teenagers might not be that forthcoming, but if you can pick up on the tiny little nuggets, then drop them into conversation later, it shows how much you care”

Listening without an agenda – simply listening for the sake of listening. That can be a challenge for parents, but it’s definitely a worthy goal!

Paula suggests parents also do well to “Just be normal”. Sure, effort goes a long way when it comes to connecting with our kids, but if the effort is too far outside the range of normal, it can lead teenagers to put their guard up, and your generous offer of ‘Let’s go play golf and catch up man-to-man’ could be me with a suspicious ‘What have I done?’.

Listening without an agenda – simply listening for the sake of listening.

You’re enough

Youth workers Paula and Zara were asked, ‘If you could only communicate one message to teenagers for the rest of your life, what would it be?’

Paula: “Make sure they know that they are enough. Identity issues are huge. Just affirm them as they are. Be yourself. You’re enough.” Zara affirms this: “You’re okay. And even if you’re not okay, it’s okay not to be okay.”

If people are believing the best in you, you’re much more likely to believe the best in yourself. This is such a valuable mindset when it comes to raising teenagers. If we give teenagers the benefit of the doubt and express confidence in their abilities, they will rise to these positive expectations. Unfortunately the converse is also true. It’s therefore a positive parenting strategy to treat our teenagers like adults – to empower them by listening to them and valuing what they’ve got to say.

And our teenagers have got some great things to say!

“Today’s teenagers are Gen Z, they’re some of the most tolerant and accepting people ever. Acceptance is a huge value, it’s okay if you’re a bit quirky – in fact we like you more,” explains Zara.

Technical difficulties

A question never far from the minds of parents of teenagers: should I be worried about technology?

Linde-Marie offers gentle encouragement that it’s not necessarily what teenagers do online that we should be concerned about, it’s what they’re not doing… When they’re on their devices, spending hours on social media and the like, they’re not exercising, eating as well, sleeping or having face-to-face real-life human interactions.

And here’s a reassuring thought: teenagers are actually experts at assessing risk online. (In general, of course there are always exceptions to the rule!) They know their way around the internet and they’re well versed in what to be wary about. Obviously there are still dangers online, but our teenagers are digital natives (read: experts!). They grew up using technology and are fluent in digital language. Us parents, on the other hand, we’re digital immigrants! Even my nine-year-old can give me tech tips, but in my defence – I’m going to suggest us immigrants and natives need each other. The latter may have the digital experience but the former have the life experience. Working together – sharing guidance, support and having those grown-up conversations we mentioned earlier – we can empower our teenagers to make good choices and assessments.

Teenagers are actually experts at assessing risk online.

While online activity comes with a few challenges, it also offers opportunities for positive engagement and interaction. “Most of the time when a young person posts something, they get lovely comments from their peers,” Linde-Marie explains. “Social media is great for connection, especially when you’re shy. It’s also a great source of support from peers and organisations.”

Zara suggests that some concern is warranted, however. “Popularity is measurable, for the first time in history. There’s nothing like a dud post to remind me that my worth doesn’t come from social media!” There is an undeniable relationship between social media and self-esteem, and this is where parenting comes in. It’s our to job to put good boundaries in place to maintain a balanced and healthy environment for our young people, as well as reassuring them daily – you’re okay.

“The scrolling is all about comparing,” says Zara. Parents need to be the loudest voice – even if it sounds cliched, say it loud to your teenager: you are a great person, you are beautiful, you are talented, you have value, you are ‘enough’. And like all their posts. Maybe hold back on leaving lots of comments though – keep those for IRL.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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