I clearly remember when my eldest son hit double figures and almost overnight metamorphosed into a sweet, polite young lad into this grumpy specimen of a tweenager, who could only scowl at me, communicate in a series of snorts and grunts and insist that I walk at least ten yards behind him.
My younger son, who is 14, is certainly a lot more vocal, with a tendency to chat back and contradict everything that I say, but hygiene has been an alien concept to both of my sons and is something that they believe is a term reserved for greeting a female friend of mine. My 15-year-old daughter, on the other hand, spends longer in the bathroom primping and preening herself on a daily basis, than most people do in a week, but she also has plenty of attitude and thinks she knows it all.
At the age of 14, my eldest son was a clone of Harry Enfield's "Kevin". He even had the same hairstyle and decided to dye his fair locks dark red. He also found the portrayal of Kevin hysterically funny because he recognised his own traits within the character. However, although most teenage boys will exhibit some "Kevin" traits, not all teenagers are the same. They all have their individual personalities, as they had when they were younger and, as they will still have when they are older. They don't all suddenly develop a singular personality and this also means that one set of rules cannot apply to every teenager.
Blame It On The Hormones
Once the testosterone or oestrogen kicks in, you may find yourself dealing with this total stranger, whose vocabulary seems to extend to, "Whaaaat now?" and "No!" It's so easy to feel you bristles rise when all you have done is to call their name, or issue a simple instruction, so the first piece of advice that I would give would be to deal with your own hormonal problems first before trying to deal with your teenager's! It's all too easy to snap and come out with a string of irrational insults that you don't really mean. I'm afraid to say that I too am guilty of it and on many occasions I have screamed like a hysterical banshee through sheer frustration.
Shouting all the time causes more than a sore throat. It creates indifference. One day I recall calmly asking my younger son to do something that I had already asked of him several times that day. When he failed, once again, to respond to my request and I asked him why he hadn't done as he was told he said, "You didn't shout at me, so I didn't think it was important." I realised then that he was so used to being yelled at, that unless I was bellowing at him, he didn't take any notice. Of course, this can also have the opposite effect. I have had friends whose children are so used to being screamed at that they consider it to be a normal method of communication and hence don't react.
With the best will in the world, there will be times when you are tired or frustrated and you lose control of your temper. However, no one should be too proud to apologise to their child, even if they feel that the outburst was justified at the time. Saying that you are sorry and then explaining the reason behind your outburst will earn you more respect than simply trying to vehemently justify your actions.
Communicating On The Same Level
We talk to babies on their level, we talk to toddlers on their level and we talk to older children on their level, yet when it comes to teenagers, we address them like fully-fledged adults in one breath and expect them to behave as such, then the next minute we are treating them like small children. One day we might tell them that they are adults now, for goodness sake, so why don't they act in a more mature fashion? The following day we might be telling them that they can't do something because they're not old enough.
This is a difficult one, since most teenagers like to think of themselves as adults and want to have the freedom of an adult, but not the responsibility that goes with being a grown up. Responsibility has to be taught, but it certainly doesn't happen overnight.
Communicating at teenage level doesn't mean going around referring to everyone you know as "Geek", "Dork" or "Bonehead", or using terminology that no-one else understands, but it does mean that if your teen calls his best mate some weird nickname, when you know his real name is Robert, it would be more polite from a teen point of view to also address him by the same nickname. If you're lucky, the friends might even think that you are cool. When I was a teenager, affectionately known as Banni (for reasons about which I am still not certain, but it was certainly preferable to being called Janet), I remember instantly feeling on a par with the parents of my friends who also called me Banni rather than Janet. My best friend's mother, whom I never felt I could relate to, always called me Janet and nothing else, not even Jan, which would not have been as cool as Banni, but far preferable to Janet.
Being accepted by your teen's mates is one of the greatest honours bestowed upon a parent. This generally means treating them as equals, not asking them embarrassing questions about their aims, aspirations or love lives and accepting all the strange rules and rituals of teendom, such as admiring the sweatshirt your son has bought that is ten sizes' too large and would accommodate five of his mates at the same time.
Communicate clearly and precisely. My son is incredibly exact and pedantic. If I want him to perform a task, for example, I have to tell him exactly what I want done. I feel that he should use his own initiative and when I ask him to wash the dishes, for example, he should realise that I also want him to dry them as well. However, I have learned that he will only do exactly what I have asked of him verbally. It's got nothing to do with the fact that he is a teenager, but more to do with the type of person he is.
I have to be exact in everything that I say to him. If someone asks me the time and I say 2.45pm, he'll say, "Actually, it's 2.42 and 20 seconds". Yes, it is irritating and I do tell him so, but I can't change his personality!
What Did You Want From Your Own Parents?
Most of us will be able to remember our teenage years and what we wanted or expected from our parents and how we would have liked them to act. When I was a teenager, the coolest parents were those who joined in our conversations, laughed along with us, listened to our music without wincing and happily discussed the issues that were of interest to us. They didn't judge and they didn't put us down for being attracted by superficial issues. They accepted who we were at the time and that was that.
I remember my mother humiliating me frequently in front of my friends and I soon became uneasy about inviting anyone round. As far as I was concerned, her constant belittlement showed that she had a total lack of respect for me and I found it hard to respect her in return. I still do.
Respect has to be earned from your teenagers. It's easy for parents to think that they are automatically entitled to respect from their children, but you need to respect them in order to be respected yourself.
When Your Teenager Has a Problem
What may seem like a petty concern to you could be a huge problem for your teen. Think back to the (now) insignificant things that worried you as a teenager and think how annoyed you were if your parents told you that you were being stupid and offered really unhelpful advice such as, "Don't let it bother you", or "You don't realise how lucky you are".
Nobody chooses to be bothered by situations and circumstances and when you are an impressionable teen, the smallest upset can seem like a huge cloud hanging over you. Try to understand that the spot on the end of your daughter's chin will probably seem as important to her as your financial worries seem to you. Your teenagers have the rest of their lives to receive their fair share of responsibilities and worries, so be patient and understand that if the problem is important enough to worry them, it should not be trivialised.
Groundrules and Discipline
Being on a level with your teen doesn't mean that you should tolerate verbal abuse, bad manners or physical anger, such as throwing or breaking things. It also doesn't mean that they should have a free reign to do as they please, when they please.
Groundrules need to be established, but in order to encourage co-operation, take time out to sit down with your teen and discuss what you feel is acceptable and unacceptable and why. This works both ways of course. Encourage your teen to tell you about issues or areas where he or she feels that you are unreasonable and try to reach a happy compromise.
Listening is very important. Your teenager is a valid person with a valid voice and often you will be surprised that the decisions that they make are, in fact, very sensible and reasonable. It might be easier to launch into lecture mode than to listen without interrupting, but when you do that your teenager may feel that you don't have the ability to listen and, consequently, when they have a real problem, they may not feel comfortable confiding in you. They may harbour the negative feelings of worry, stress, fear or sadness inside of them, which can lead to more serious complications such as depression. Most parents would be mortified to think that their child could not come to them in times of crises and yet so many parents make themselves seem unapproachable by talking down to their children and making them feel unworthy.
When your teen has been rude or is making an unreasonable request, there has to be a penalty. I have heard many parents say that they didn't want to ground their teen and let them have their own way "for the sake of a quiet life", but by adopting this attitude you are creating greater problems for yourself and your teen in the long run. You will turn yourself into a doormat and your teen into someone who believes that emotional blackmail is the secret to obtaining what you want in life.
Since everyone is different, I cannot suggest a suitable form of punishment, although I have found that denial of privileges works best. You have to decide for yourself how you wish to punish your child, which is often dependant upon the degree of the "crime" and your personal feelings about suitable forms of castigation.
Assigning chores is probably one area where most parents of teens have come up against conflict. Teenagers are forever requesting a need for something - clothes, CD's, cash - and so on, but they are at an age where they should be earning these privileges. Sit down with your son or daughter and draw up an action plan. Ask them what they would really like, whether that is a material item or a request to go to a late night disco, for example and then suggest the task that you would like completed in order to earn this privilege.
This will often meet with resistance and you may be greeted with a response such as, "But so-and-so gets what he/she wants and he/she doesn't have to do anything around the house." Explain that you want them to grow into responsible adults and that people who are responsible are popular people and are those with whom we feel most comfortable spending our time.
I remember my eldest son objecting violently to having to do household chores, but I explained that he would not find it such a shock when he finally left home and had a place of his own to keep. I was right. Last year, he thanked me for the "training" he had received. Your teen may not appreciate what you are doing now, but in the future they will be grateful.
Make time to sit, chat and listen to your teen. Express an interest in their lives, their opinions and their friends, without critical judgement. Relate what they have to say to experiences of your own teenage years and be sympathetic, however trifling their problem may seem to you.
Finally, and most importantly, never stop telling them that you love them, because you never know when it will be the last time.