If you enter two rooms of Candice Blansett-Cummins’ otherwise immaculate home, you might need a mask to disguise the smell, along with some anti-bacterial soap. That’s because Blansett-Cummins is the mother of two teenagers, one 14 and the other, 18, and she’s learned to choose her battles.
“It didn’t make any sense to argue with them and make them clean it just to make it fall back apart again,” Blansett-Cummins said. “Behind their doors, that’s their space, and we’re not going to govern what’s in there, aside from the fact that there has to be a path for safety. Also, you shouldn’t have rotting food!”
Parents of teenagers are united in their mission to get through this time with their sanity intact, but they often fail.
“Teenagers are going through a very stressful time in their lives. They want to please us, but they also want to break away,” said Michele Borba, educational psychologist, parent expert and author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All-About-Me World.
“Expectations are huge, the social scene is huge, peer pressure is enormous, college applications are due. (Meanwhile,) peers matter more than we do, and psychologically and physiologically, there are a lot of changes.”
Add that all up, and you get a melting pot of teenage emotions, and the target of those emotions is quite often the parent. For most parents, these teenage years are the most difficult and frustrating times, but there are ways to ease the tension.
It’s a very quick and emotional transition from being a child to becoming a tween and then a teen. Parents aren’t used to giving up the control they had over their kids, which is commonly the source of the majority of the arguments, said Dan Griffin, a clinical psychologist specialising in adolescents and family therapy.
“Parents have a hard time making the transition from the preteen years, where it has been more helpful to be hands-on, toward increasing autonomy and stepping back,” Griffin said.
If parents aren’t anticipating their children’s need for autonomy, they might perceive it as disrespect or lack of control, and this sets up a bad dynamic between the teenager and the parent, he said.
“They get more controlling, and there’s a dance of the clamping down and the resistance,” he said.
Instead, parents can offer tweens or even eight- and nine-year-olds increasing opportunities to have control, to shift the hierarchy, which will help their relationship.
“Let them choose the menu for dinner, the restaurant or the sports they’ll be playing,” Griffin said.
You’re still the parent, and you get to make the major decisions in their lives, but they’re growing up, and they need to feel they’re in control as well.
“If kids begin to feel a sense of respect coming at them, you’ll often see a shift, and the kid will seem to become a bit more mature and engaged instead of just being a resistant gorilla,” Griffin said.
Giving up the control is a tough one for many parents, but there are other struggles besides control. It’s a tough, passionate time for hormonal teenagers, and when they arrive home from school, they need to unwind.
Instead of giving them the privacy and space that they need, some parents feel insulted and rejected by their teenagers. Therefore, this could cause tension in the home, said Lisa Damour, psychologist and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through The Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.
That isn’t to say that parents should ignore or celebrate the ways that teenagers become less pleasant. Teens should still be polite. But you can bypass much of the friction if you see the teenage years as something that your child is passing through rather than something your child is doing to you.
During this tumultuous time in their lives, teenagers really need their parents to be a non-judgmental support system, said Lucie Hemmen, clinical psychologist and author of Parenting A Teen Girl and The Teen Girl’s Survival Guide.
You may feel that you have plenty of advice, but you should talk less, lecture less and listen more.
Even for scary behaviour, keep calm and be curious, she said. For example, if you notice cuts on his arms, explain calmly that you saw the cuts and you’re not angry, but you love him and want to help. “You can say to him something like ‘Can you please talk to me about what’s going on?’,” Hemmen said.
There also are good times of the day and bad times to have those talks, whether you want to talk to your teen about a serious issue or whether you simply want to ask him about his day.
You may be excited to chat as soon as he walks in after school, but this is usually the worst time. And here’s the tricky part: Each teen is different, and you’re going to have to read his or her signs.
“But don’t do the Barbara Walters approach, do more of the Kelly Ripa, the relaxed approach,” Borba said. “The steady eye contact really bothers them, and don’t be so inquisitive.”
Rob Cummins and his wife Candice has learnt to choose their battles when it comes to their teenagers Jack and Photo: TNS
Alecs Variny, a widow who is raising her 14-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, tries to create a nightly safe space – the dinner table.
“We sit down, and as we eat, I ask them about how school went, how was their such-or-such activity,” Variny said. “It is my favourite time of the day, and I really miss it if we don’t get to do it.”
Electronics are banned at the table, and moodiness is called out, even if it’s Variny who is the moody one. But moods happen, and home is the place where teens are allowed to have their moods.
“It doesn’t matter how good of a job you do as a parent or how the stars are aligned, there’s nothing you can do because hormones are hormones,” Blansett-Cummins said. “We have to give them the space to have their moods.” – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Danielle Braff