Coping with Teenagers

See also: Communicating with Teenagers

Being a teenager is hard.

Being the parent of a teenager can often feel even harder.

It is important to remember that you are the adult: you are your teenager’s best role model, and that means how you behave is important.

This page provides some advice about how to cope with a teenager in the house, and make sure that you and they are able to emerge safe and sound at the end of their teenage years.

The teenage years in a nutshell

During their teenage years, young people face a huge number of challenges.

Their bodies are changing, and they are going through a massive period of brain and hormonal development.

For more about this, see our page: Understanding Adolescence.

They are growing up and maturing more generally. They are trying to find out who they are, and establish their identity as a separate person from both you and their friends, but heavily influenced by both.

They are also subject to increasing pressure to achieve good results at school, with public exams looming.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that their behaviour may become more challenging, and that they may experience mood swings and emotional ups and downs during this period.

Parenting a Teenager

If being a teenager is hard, parenting a teenager can tough too.

Your lovely, happy, smiley little child has suddenly started to argue, shout, and slam doors.  What’s more, they’ve suddenly shot up, and may well be taller than you. Whatever you suggest is wrong, and you sometimes feel like you have regressed back to the toddler years, except that your teen is now too big to sit on the bottom step.

It is a stressful time, especially if you have other things to worry about, such as younger children, work, or older parents.

The good news, though, is that there are some relatively easy ways to cope.

1. Look after yourself

It is important to carry on looking after yourself when you are under stress.

It is too easy to start to skip meals, because you are ‘too tired to cook’, or lie awake at night worrying about the situation. Instead, make sure that you take extra time to look after yourself, and everyone else.

  • Try to make sure that you, and everyone else in the family, eats a healthy balanced diet. There is  more about this in our pages on Food, Diet and Nutrition.
  • Get enough sleep, and encourage your teenager to do so too. You will all be grumpy and unpleasant if you do not do so. There is more about this in our pages What is Sleep? and The Importance of Sleep.
  • It is much easier to cope with stress, including within the family, if you are fit. This means that you may need to start taking a bit more exercise. Getting outside in the fresh air is also good, and if you can combine the two, so much the better. There is more about this in our page on The Importance of Exercise.
  • Take time to have a break from your children. Work with your partner, or perhaps another relative or family friend to make sure that you both get ‘time off’, and that you have a chance to relax away from the family.
  • Ask for help. No man is an island, as John Donne put it so many years ago. None of us is stronger on our own, and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Do turn to your partner, your friends, and other family member, or ask for professional help if you think you need it. Our page on Resilience explains more about why knowing when to ask for help is key part of resilience and being able to cope.

If you want to explore more about managing stress, you may find our pages on Stress helpful.

The Skills You Need Guide to Life eBook covers a lot of the areas listed above to help you keep your body and mind healthy.

2. Stay calm

It can be hard to stay calm and focused when talking to your teenager.

Our children have a unique ability to press all our buttons, and generally be able to wind us up. If you feel yourself getting angry, take a few deep breaths before replying, and don’t be afraid to say something like “I’m just going to take a few minutes of time out before I reply, as I’m getting a bit angry, and I don’t want to discuss this when I’m cross.”

This will not only help you to calm down, but also model desired behaviour to your teen and show them how to behave.

3. Keep talking and listening

Make sure that you keep communication channels open with your teenager.

While it may be tempting to send them off on the bus, remember that giving them lifts to places may offer a useful chance for a quick chat. Give them opportunities to talk, and ask general questions, listening to the responses.

If you are worried about specific behaviour, avoid challenging them directly. Instead, provide sources of information, such as a suitable leaflet or link to a good website, and say that you thought they might be interested to read it.

There is more about this in our page on Communicating with Teenagers.

4. Set and keep to boundaries

Just like toddlers and young children, teenagers need boundaries.

You may find the process of enforcing them rather easier if you have agreed them together, rather than simply imposed them. It can be helpful to explain why you think something is particularly important, and negotiate on areas where you feel you have some flexibility.

Allow teenagers to have time alone

Teenagers are trying very hard to find and create their own identity.

It is important to allow them time on their own, and some privacy, to enable them to feel that they are growing up. That said, it is also important that they continue to spend time with you and with their family, so it may be helpful to continue with shared mealtimes, and perhaps occasional family outings.

6. Don’t give in to bad behaviour

Just as with toddlers, teenagers will use whatever means are available to achieve what they want. If you give in to bad behaviour, they will use it more often: you will reinforce the behaviour. For a reminder about the theory behind this, see our page on Understanding Young Children and Toddlers.

Finally, it is important to show teenagers that you love them

Most teenagers are generally aware of any poor behaviour. They often don’t like themselves very much anyway during adolescence.

Teenagers need to know that you still love them. And perhaps as importantly, you need to remember that you still love them.

They may not be your lovely, cuddly little boy or girl any more, but this is still your child, and they need you. Give them a quick hug from time to time, make their favourite pudding, or take them out somewhere nice spontaneously. It will remind both of you that you are important to each other.