Adolescence is that tumultuous stage all parents dread. It’s when our sweet, innocent, spontaneous, playful, demonstrative and wide-eyed-with-wonder children get kidnapped by aliens from outer space and, in their stead, are the angsty, sullen, emotional, whiny, unpredictable, awkward, moody, impulsive and rebellious monsters that are thrust to live with us. They are the house guests who have abused the generosity of their hosts and overstayed their welcome. They are the burglars who invaded the serenity of our lives, raided our fridge and pantries and turned our immaculate sanctuary into one big, noisy, messy pit. They are the leeches that latch onto us as their prey and drain us of all our energy. During their lengthy stay, our homes become war zones that we need to carefully tread for fear of accidentally stepping on an inconspicuous device that could trigger an explosion. During this stage, we become hostages by a situation there is no easy way out of.
Adolescence can also turn a harmonious parent-children relationship into one that is replete with conflicts and drama. To minimize the damage, there are certain “rules” that we parents have to abide by.
The following is my personal list. I may not be a professional in dealing with this kind of things, but having to live simultaneously with three teenagers (Yup, you read it right. Three teens all at the same time!) makes me a deep well of credible knowledge and of sound and valuable pieces of advice in the matter. Heck, in my book, that actually makes me a freakin’ expert!
My kids with their teenaged masks on – furious, dubious and amused
- Don’t nag, preach or lecture them. Our teens hate litanies, so as much as possible, make that heart-to-heart, one-on-one talk concise. Choice of words and timing are also important. In my case, I have found out that the best time to have serious talks with my teens is after a hearty meal, at the privacy of their respective rooms. And, instead of plunging at it right away, I try to soften them a little and put them at ease with some small talks.
- Don’t make a habit of criticizing them. Teens are particularly sensitive on the subject of their physical appearance, so you might want to go easy on them when you want to call their attention to their OOTD. Sugar-coating it a little would definitely help. To the father of my children, bear this in mind!
- Don’t mess with their hair. Hair is extremely sacred for the teens.
- Don’t compare them – not even with their siblings and definitely not with the other parents’ kids.
- Don’t tell stories about them on social media. And, for Pete’s sake, do not tag them! I know. This is very difficult to not do for us parents, especially when our kids have said or done something funny, smart or brag-worthy. But, lest they be teased mercilessly by their peers, let us try to exercise that self-control in posting their most recent activity, conversation, comment, letter, certificate, or what have you. I, for one, do not have that strength to control my itchy fingers in posting about my kids so I just opt to suffer the consequences.
- Don’t contact their friends. Teens feel betrayed when they think that we have done something behind their backs; that we don’t trust them enough. They also get embarrassed. But, of course, when we can’t get hold of our children in cases of emergency, we are within our rights to talk to or call anyone who could provide some help. Friend or no friend – it shouldn’t matter at all.
- Don’t be the proverbial broken record. Just as much as our teens hate repeating themselves, they don’t like having to listen to the same things over and over again. Who does, anyway?
- Don’t act too eager and too excited when they decide to open up, otherwise they would clam up. Teens are naturally suspicious and wary of parental motives so they tend to be skittish, edgy and fickle around us. That is why when they talk of their own accord, act natural. Find that accurate combination of enthusiasm and disinterest to encourage them to continue talking. Relish the moment by jumping up and down with glee when the kids are no longer around.
- Don’t share with anyone else whatever they shared with you. It doesn’t matter if it is a rubbish story, a casual declaration, a trivial opinion, a serious confession, a profound revelation or a highly-classified secret; you have to guard it with your life.
- Don’t judge their choice of friends and romantic partners. If you really have to, you need to be very subtle and tactful and crafty in getting your message across.
- Don’t make any promises to them that you are not absolutely certain you could keep. Teens have long memories. They hold grudges in the absence of a pay-off. And, they could charge an exorbitant interest for broken promises or promises not kept on time.
- Don’t invade their personal space. They might still be living under your roof, but their bedroom is definitely off-limits.
- Don’t impinge on their privacy. Teens tend to be very protective of their privacy. Every one of their gadgets is password-protected as if all the best-kept secrets of the universe are stashed in there!
- Don’t expect extreme positive reactions from them. Emotions like glee, interest, gratitude, surprise, admiration, enthusiasm, pride, amusement and awe – they were all gone along with our innocent children abducted by the aliens from outer space. Occasionally, we may be allowed to get an unexpected glimpse of our easygoing preteens and be rewarded with an impish smile, flippant hug or offhand compliment. Those are the rare occasions that we need to bottle up because they come few and far between.
- Don’t show them any sign of affection in public. Giving them a hug or a peck on the cheek, or even holding hands with them is a big no-no when you’re out of the house. When their friends see them “getting chummy with Mum”, we are inadvertently “ruining their social lives”.
- Don’t be a helicopter parent. This one is a legit concern. True, our teens would not appreciate us hovering over them and closely monitoring their every activity, but helicopter parenting also has adverse effects on our children – extreme dependence, narcissism, low self-worth and poor coping skills.
- Don’t make fun of or undermine their feelings. Adolescence is a period of crisis and inner emotional turmoil for our kids. Perhaps, we could have a better understanding of this stage by looking at it through the eyes of another teen, the brilliantly candid Anne Frank. “They musn’t know my despair. I can’t let them see the wounds which they have caused. I couldn’t bear their sympathy and their kind-hearted jokes. It would only make me want to scream all the more. If I talk, everyone thinks I’m showing off; when I’m silent they think I’m ridiculous; rude if I answer, sly if I get a good idea, lazy if I’m tired, selfish if I eat a mouthful more than I should, stupid, cowardly, crafty, etc., etc.”
- Don’t make them feel judged. Teens are confused creatures. They have a perennial struggle to cling on to their childhood AND to be accepted as adults. They feel that the world is conspiring against them. The least we could do for them as their parents is to guide them through this bumpy ride armed with love, patience and compassion.
- Don’t give out too many rules (or errands!) all at the same time. Teens already have enough on their plates – physical changes, peer pressure, quest for self-identity, behavioral changes, romantic issues, school load, family matters, etc. If we have to impose rules, we should do it one at a time and they must always be within the bounds of reason.
- Don’t be insensitive to their non-verbal communication. Teens could be silent, succinct, inaudible, mono-syllabic or downright uncommunicative. It is our role to decipher their means of communication other than the verbal and written ones. These include actions, body language, gestures, facial expressions and posture.
Finally, we have to understand that adolescence is a troubled stage where only few manage to get out unscathed. As parents, it is our duty and responsibility to help our teens survive its slings and arrows, bumps and bruises, and wounds and scars while trying to keep our relationship with them as amicable as possible.
There you have it, co-parents! Know that I learned (and am still continue learning) all these the hard, painful way. So hopefully, through this list, you would be spared the feelings of desperation, frustration and anxiety, and all those worries, fears and doubts that occasionally assail me, sometimes even to the brink of insanity. If I have, by any chance, saved you from a potential heart attack, severe stress, migraine or any mental disorder through this article, you can show your appreciation by sharing this on your preferred social networking site. And if you wish to add your own “don’ts” to this list, feel free to leave a comment below.
Thanks. ‘Till my next blog post!