Parenting is a walk in the park. Jurassic Park. The journey to teenagerhood is dotted with a multitude of trials. Remember the tantrums of your precious two-year-olds? Probably not. The mind has a clever way of making us forget the hardships of the really trying times in our lives. It must be some evolutionary development to ensure the continuation of our species. But now you find yourself in the midst of a hurricane of hormonal angst and monosyllabic responses from a teen who vacillates between the sheer inability to care about anything and the deeply emotional and eternally scarring trauma of no-one caring about them.
The truth is, teenagerhood is really difficult. On everyone. Especially parents. We struggle to reconcile memories of our delightful little toddlers with these temperamental and uncommunicative tyrants and, for many, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to have been blown out by their teen’s endless sighing. The truth is, this period is transient. And, though difficult to believe, it is a sign of a maturing individual, preparing themselves to be the successful adults that we hope they will become. In fact, this stage of infinite frustration is one that should be celebrated, as much as we celebrated their first steps or first badly-formed words. If only they would put to use those verbal skills we revelled in their first few years.
Communicating with teenagers is tricky. Friendship groups and their significant others (for now) take your place in their hierarchy of importance. Where you were once the person who bought the single most joy to their lives (remember fetching them from pre-school?), you’re now not much more than irritation or a glorified cook and taxi-driver. Developmentally, they find baring their emotions and thoughts in spoken word incredibly difficult. Technological development has been kind to this generation. They’re now able to communicate, especially with those that matter, in a complex arrangement of emojis and acronyms.
But just because they appear to be retreating from their parents and avoiding (at all costs) any kind of meaningful interaction, it does not mean that communication is not what they need. Quite the opposite. Our challenge, as parents of teenagers, is to find ways in which to communicate without breeding hostility and judgement. Teens need their parents’ support and guidance as much as they did when they were toddlers. It’s just that the communication needs to take a different form.
The first consideration parents need to make is when they attempt to reach out to their teens. A bombardment of questions as soon as anyone walks into the house after a long day is bound to inspire mild irritation. A good place to talk is around the dinner table, or in the car while driving them to and from their many arrangements. (This is particularly helpful for the teen as eye contact is limited).
As far as communication goes, it really is a case of ‘the more, the merrier’. Before we can tackle the really trying topics like appropriate sexual behaviour and the use of illegal substances, we need to have created a habit of communication. The more you talk to your teen about the mundane, the easier it will be to communicate in general, and then the really difficult conversations become a lot easier too. Consider creating time to spend together on equal ground. A Saturday afternoon on the beach, for example, or a trip to the local beauty salon for a pedicure offers the opportunity for parents to really connect with their teens – even if it is only about their most recent favourite celeb’s spectacular fall from grace.
Teenagers, like adults, need to feel valued too. They are under immense pressure at school to perform, and while we all do realise the importance of their academic performance, we need to sometimes remind ourselves to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Yes, of course, school work is important. But more important to your teen right now is the feeling that you genuinely care about them. A teen who feels secure in the undeniable reliability of their parents’ support is one who more likely to communicate when they need your help the most.
And while teenagers are indisputably trying, our relationship with our teens consists of two individuals. One of those individual’s body’s is a cocktail mixed with unchecked hormones, insecurity and plethora of pressures. The other is a mature adult. Sometimes we need to, as difficult as it is, turn the microscope on ourselves and ask, “Am I the parent that I wish I’d had or am I the parent that my child needs?”
And if all else fails, you could always send them a SnapChat with a string of acronyms and emojis, and hope for the best.
By André Loots (Principal) & Jacqui Browne (English teacher at Crawford College North Coast)