Take time for teenagers

Teenagers need you, even if they seem to spend more time with their peers. Take time to listen, says counsellor Suzie Hayman.

How does having teenage children impact on your life as a working parent? According to Suzie Hayman, author of ‘Parenting Your Teenager’, one of the most important things you can give to a teenage child is time, even if it seems that they are only interested in their peers. While younger children need immediate practical support, teenagers require more emotional input and that means attuning your antennae to spot the signs that they need to talk.
Hayman once worked on a tv series on stepfamilies and they asked teenagers if they could wave a magic want what they most like to change about their family life. Practically all of them wanted to have more family nights in playing board games. “These were sophisticated kids with computers,” says Hayman, “and they wanted to play Monopoly because they wanted time with their parents so they could chat about things. With teenagers you have to know when they need to talk and you need to prioritise that.”
This can often conflict with being a busy working parent. Hayman bemoans Britain’s family unfriendly long hours culture and says that, while employers have become more sympathetic to the needs of parents of young children, they still have a way to go on older children, despite the recent extension of flexible working to parents of children under 16. She gives examples, saying it is much harder to ask for time off to help a child out with exams than to stay at home with a sick toddler. She thinks men in particular need to be encouraged to spend more time with their teenagers. “Teenagers want to know their father approves of them and is there,” she says.
If time is an important commodity for parents and their teenagers, then it is also vital for parents as a couple. Hayman is big on trying to find couple time so that parents are not swamped by dealing with their teenagers’ concerns. “It can be difficult and painful to give other people what they need if you feel nobody looks after you,” she says.
Troublesome teens
She thinks too much is made in the media of ‘troublesome teenagers’ and that not enough advice is available for parents of teenagers with most parenting magazines being geared towards younger children.
She says that if parents take the time to talk to their teenagers they will discover they are really quite nice people most of the time. “We build adolescence up to be this awful thing. People say wait till your children become teenagers. They talk themselves into seeing the teenage years as a time of stress and conflict,” she says. “They need to flip this and talk themselves into seeing it as a time of adventure, exploration and excitement.”
Hayman, whose book covers everything frmo negotiations with teens to using technology, says the main key to maintaining a good relationship with teenage children is communication, understanding how they feel, but just as importantly how you feel. You may be feeling upset and that you have been left behind because their peer group are now more important in their everyday life than you are. They still need you on a fundamental level, though, says Hayman, but they also need to separate from you to become more independent. If they don’t something is probably wrong.
Even amid all this rebellion, teenagers still need boundaries, she says, but do not get either too rule-bound or too flexible. Parents are not to be confused with friends, she states, but boundaries must be carefully thought through. She counsels in favour of choosing the battles you fight. Having tidy rooms may be expendable next to something like never getting into a car with a drunk driver. If you explain your reasoning, teenagers are more likely to respect it, she says, and make sure you are not being a hypocrite. Remember what you did as an adolescent. “Teenagers have a very acute sense of fairness,” says Hayman. “You need to explain why the boundaries are there and reach a consensus about them.”

Parenting your teenager is part of the teach yourself series published by Hodder Education, price £7.99.

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