Dealing with teens [coping with uncertainty]

The last in our summer series on parenting skills that transfer to the workplace…

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You’re a parent and you’ve hit those teenage years or even the pre-teen ones. Hormones are raging. Emotions are running wild. You may think you are useless at coping with the constant mood swings – indeed the teen people may tell you so fairly often – but there are positive things you can take away and build on from your experience.

1. Dealing with uncertainty

In an age of uncertainty where nothing is predictable, what better training than dealing with a person who one minute inquires pleasantly how your day went and the next slams the door in your face? This is where you hone your psychological skills to master levels, where you learn to harness a range of different strategies, from humour to appeals to anti-capitalist tendencies to chocolate, to bargain your way towards a shared goal [even if no-one except you sees it as such]. Each strategy on its own can potentially backfire and end in sudden combustion and people locking themselves in the toilet for the entire evening, which is why you need several at your fingertips and to know the right tactic for the right moment. To get people out of toilets, for instance, tactics can include sliding notes under doors, getting younger, sweeter siblings to act as go-betweens and sending in pets. The important thing is persistence. If you can get a teenager in a huff out of a locked toilet you are capable of, at the very least, dealing with the latest internal communications crisis.

2. Prioritisation

Living with teens is a lesson in prioritisation. You learn quickly to focus on the important stuff and let the rest lie. The former more or less boils down to survival – yours and theirs. Is it worth picking a fight over the fact someone has left all their clothes in a heap on the floor again after you have mentioned it three billion times when the bigger prize is getting them to exit the house in time for you to catch the train to work? Sometimes the smaller stuff like tidying rooms requires a longer-term campaign embracing lie-down protests in the middle of the floor until said items are picked up and/or subtle appeals to conscience, such as limping around for hours as if you have done your back in from picking up too many clothes. Of course, they may not even notice and when you actually do do your back in for said reason, they will probably think you are faking.

3. Motivating your team

Waking teens up in the morning or getting them out the house on time requires the kind of skills which will come in very handy if you need to motivate a team. If singing, welcoming them to a new day in a variety of languages and making odd beeping noises every two minutes doesn’t get them out of bed, you can always go straight for divebombing. Getting people out the house is another test of dedication and commitment. Use the accompanying frustration and inordinate amount of time you will spend waiting for them to finish moisturising their legs or similar to good effect, for instance, write a blog about the skills you learn from having teenagers or start moisturising your own…very, very slowly.

4. Managing different personalities

At work it is a good idea to be aware of different people’s foibles in order to get them to work to the best of their abilities. With teens this is 100 times more important. Be aware that they are likely, depending on the time of day and any prevailing wind, to be slightly oversensitive on topics ranging from what they are wearing [particularly on non-school uniform day] to any praise given to any sibling. Choose your words very carefully.

5. Dealing with criticism

There is no-one who will “keep you grounded” more than a teenager. If you do not understand the latest in vegan politics, if you attempt to show any interest in “modern” music  [post 1980s] and in particular if you display any level of hypocrisy [eg telling them off for living on their phone when you are permanently glued to your laptop] your teenager will be there to prick the bubble of your own fragile sense of self. Develop a thick skin and a strong sense of irony or you will not last five minutes.

6. Communication skills

Communication is a key skill in any workplace. With teens conversation is all – even if there is a slammed door between you. Keep those channels of communication open, even if half the time you don’t quite understand whether “bare peak” is a good thing or not.

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