Parents of teenagers are often caught between a rock and a hard place…

The teenage years can be overwhelming, daunting, and just downright filled with fear. This is true for young adolescents and parents alike. Teens become withdrawn, silent, and even aggressive – and parents react by becoming defensive, scared and overly protective.

According to Ilze Alberts, Johannesburg-based life strategist and psychologist, parents are often caught between a rock and a hard place. They don’t want to do too little or too much as they don’t want to scare away their young adults. But it is tough!

Teens often become like aliens in your home. They have moods swings and volatile emotions, and they become demanding, selfish, and overly focused on their own interests and priorities.

Communication is the key to bridging this relationship gap, but in the digital age (where children prefer to ask Google for advice rather than speaking to a human), it has become even trickier to talk to your teenage sons and daughters.

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Having raised her son and daughter alone, Alberts too walked this, at times, treacherous path.

“I understand that this period is demanding, challenging and extremely stressful. From personal and professional experience, I have gained valuable insights and learned tough lessons – and yes, in certain instances I felt as if I had failed. However, it is comforting to know that you are not alone in this boat.”

“I always advise parents to think back to yourself as a teenager – remind yourself of your pains and pleasures, challenges, and support structures, the uncertainties, peer pressure and how you handled it all”.

Here are five tips on how to have an effective relationship with your teen:

1. Get to know their world

The world of today’s teens is daunting for most parents.

Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Internet, drugs, sex, alcohol, and many other experiences with which many parents are not familiar, is your child’s reality.

Make sure you get to know their world. Listen to their music, watch their movies, pay attention to their talk, and show an interest in their reality. Remember, this world is just as overwhelming to them. They might seem to only be interested in their social lives or sporting events, but in their heart, they still need their mom and dad.

Teens often become like aliens in your home. They have moods swings and volatile emotions, and they become demanding, selfish, and overly focused on their own interests and priorities

2. Guard against becoming the preacher

It is easy to become the preacher and warn them against the dangers of this world. However, they will become to perceive you as old-fashioned and clueless, says Alberts, “The more you preach to them and set tight boundaries, the more they see you as the enemy. The result is that your relationship and communication becomes strained.”

“I wanted to shout from the rooftops for them to beware of the clubs, the malls, drugs, bullies, the Internet. All they heard was nagging and moaning. The more I preached, the further away they drifted. One day the penny dropped: Stop being the preacher. From that day onwards, I changed from preaching to talking and informing with care”.

3. Remember the fun and discoveries of your own teenage years

Think back to yourself as a teenager and remind yourself of your pains and pleasures, challenges, and support structures, the uncertainties, peer pressure and how you handled it all. Many parents actually fear for the well-being of their kids because they know what they were up to as teenagers themselves.

The teenage years are an important period in your child’s life, the start of independence and self-reliance. It’s a chance for them to learn about relationships with the opposite sex, handle an ever-growing mountain of school work and deal with peer pressure. It’s also a time of fun and new discoveries!

By working through your fears of raising a teen, you open up a whole new world of experiences for yourself – and a chance to enjoy these experiences with your teen.

4. Give them wings

Trust that you did a good enough job parenting. You have the biggest impact on your child’s life from the time they are born until the age of six. From then on, you are enforcing the basic principles and parenting style that you have adopted.

Alberts says, “Give your teeanger a long enough string to explore, but not too long that they hang themselves. Even though teens seem to be more focused on their friends and social life, you as their parent are still the most important force and influencer.”

5. Be teen-focused

Apart from knowing their world, also get to know your teen. Know what is of value, importance and a priority to your teenager.

Watch what they fill their space with and what they like to spend time on, what they like to talk about, what motivates them, what goals they set, and in which areas of their lives are they disciplined and organised. The answers to these questions will help you understand what is really important to your teenage child.

According to Alberts, the rule of thumb for a good relationship with your teen is acceptance without qualification. Give them what they want within boundaries and age-appropriate limitations.

“Expect the best from them but be realistic. And enjoy these years as much as possible. You will learn more about yourself and realise that your kids are not extensions of you, but their own unique individual selves”.

“By opening yourself up to work through your fears and enjoy your teenage kids, you are able to unlock a new world of experiences for yourself,” Alberts concludes.

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