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Coping with your teenager

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Many parents feel stressed by their teenager’s behaviour, and worry about whether it is normal. We look at what changes children go through in their teenage years, and how to deal with the effects of bad teenage behaviour.

They say being a parent is the toughest job in the world. For some, it can certainly feel that way during the teenage years.

Teenage behaviour

Teenagers' behaviour can be baffling, stressful, hurtful and often worrying. But in most cases it doesn't mean that there is anything more serious going on than the natural process of becoming an adult.

Many of the common behaviour issues that parents find hard are an essential part of puberty and growing up.

Surges of hormones, combined with body changes, struggling to find an identity, pressures from friends and a developing sense of independence, means the teenage years are a confusing time for your child. It can mean that they, for example, become aloof, want more time alone or with friends, feel misunderstood, reject your attempts to talk or show affection, or appear sullen and moody.

These changes in personality may be natural, but it doesn't mean as a parent you don't feel hurt and worried by them.

Your feelings about your teen’s behaviour

Teenagers can challenge even the calmest of parents. When you have further pressures in your life, such as other children, work, relationships, family commitments, illness, it can feel as though your teenager is going to push you over the edge.

Try to step back from the situation, and remember that they have physiological reasons for behaving in the ways that are so difficult to live with. They’re probably not enjoying it either. You’re the adult, and it is your responsibility to guide them through the difficult times. Don’t expect to enjoy your time with them all of the time, and remember to look after yourself.

If you’re feeling rejected because your teenager is keeping a distance, remember that forming strong friendships outside of the family is an important part of growing up. Try not to be offended. Try turning to your own friends, partner or family for support when it’s hard.

How do I cope with the stress?

Young Minds, a mental health charity, advises that an effective way of coping with a troublesome teenager is to start by looking after yourself. For example:

  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Eat healthily.
  • Make sure you get time to relax and have a break from your children.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Talk to friends, partner, external help, support group.
  • Learn techniques for coping with stress and know the signs of depression or anxiety. If you’re concerned that you’re depressed, anxious or stressed, talk to your GP.
How should I act with my teenager?
Be calm and consistent

Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist who works with families, explains that: “Teenagers can be largely emotional rather than logical because of the hormones rampaging through their bodies. It is not necessarily pleasant for them, and it can even feel frightening. Although it might be hard for you, they need you to maintain a calm consistent presence.”

Remember that you are a role model for your teenager

Linda says: “If they see you smoking, drinking, taking drugs, they will see that as a green light to do the same themselves. And they won’t listen to you if you tell them not to do it.”

Don’t bottle up your concerns

If you’re worried that your teenage son or daughter might be having unprotected sex, for example, don't assume they know the facts. Don’t, however, challenge them. Instead, simply offer them information, such a leaflet or website URL, to make sure they know the risks and how to be safe.

Give them your time

Make sure you allow them the time to be with you and talk to you when it seems right for them. And make sure you listen when they do want to talk. For example, offer a lift when they need to go somewhere – car journeys are a good time for talking.

Offer some time alone

Allow them to have their own space and privacy.

Show them love

Even if they don’t seem responsive, they do need to know you love them.

Set boundaries

Boundaries allow teenagers to feel safe. Decide what the limits are and then stick to them.

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