How to survive the teenage years: a mothers’ guidebook

Adolescence doesnt have to be scary. Let our experts guide you through the hazards

The Quentin Blake picture book, Zagazoo, tells the surreal narrative of George and Bella, who become parents after they unwrap a parcel containing a newborn. The perfect newborn becomes a baby vulture who squeaks all night; in toddlerdom, he’s a clumsy elephant. When Zagazoo makes the teen years, he turns into a hulk brute who becomes stranger and hairier by the minute, and they made breaking point. Blake’s illustrations get wilder. George’s hair turns grey.” Suppose it never stops ,” Bella anxieties.” It doesn’t bear thinking about ,” George cries.” What will become of us ?”

It’s very funny, but it also imparted a powerful message about adolescence: that it’s something to dread, survive, tolerate- for children and parents.

But does it have to be this way? We asked the experts, from our own advice columnist to counsellors, writers and gaming guru, people with professional and personal experience of the teenage years. The outcome is our guide to espousing your teen, understanding the very real changes they’re undergoing, comprehending the world they inhabit- and perhaps taking a look at yourself, too.

1 Let go

” Parents are biologically driven to protect their child, but in evolutionary words, the protected infant has to grow up and separate, and so the period of adolescence is there for that to happen ,” says Nicola Morgan, who writes about teenagers.

Morgan says this process is easier for teens, because they’re biologically programmed to separate, while the mothers are still in protection mode.” There’s nothing in the parent brain that stimulates it want to segregated from their own children. The difficulty happens when we try to protect for too long- that’s where, often, conflict comes .”

” It’s OK to mourn the loss of the cuddly little person, but espouse the facts of the case that they’re entering a new stage of life ,” Relate counsellor Ammanda Major says.

But don’t think your teenager doesn’t need you any more.” They perfectly do, even though they think they don’t ,” Major says.” It’s just that it’s different from when they were a child and you were in total control .”

2 Understand the biology

Hormones and seismic growth throw adolescent brains into overdrive- and they don’t finish developing until their 20 s. This is pure biology, and it entails teens gravitate towards certain behaviours: emotional roller-coastering, so-called ” bad” risk-taking, lower empathy, susceptibility to peer pressure and weaker impulse control.

” Sometimes its immensely reassuring to know that there’s a biological reason behind some adolescent behaviour ,” Morgan says.” If you’re in the thick of some challenging moments, keep that in intellect .”

This development of the brain also means sleep patterns are affected. Set simply, adolescents aren’t ready for bed when you want them to be, and they might struggle to get up in the morning. It’s useless to get into arguments over bedtimes- things have changed since they were toddlers you could sleep-train. No quantity of arguing and rule-setting can beat biology. Instead, assists them to change their routine where possible to accommodate a new pattern of sleep- even if it’s only at weekends.

Photograph: Kellie French for the Guardian

3 Don’ t write off gaming

” Video games are a big part of childhood and teenage life, so getting to grips with them can be a window to understanding and engaging with your adolescent ,” says journalist and gamer Andy Robertson, writer of Taming Gaming.” Clearly, if they play too much, or on their own in a bedroom, it was able have an isolating effect .” His advice is to bring them out from the shadows, and stimulate gaming more of a family-friendly activity. This requires getting involved early:” Avoid only defining restrictions when they are young- find games you want them to play .” Research the Pan European Game Information( PEGI) rating so you know which games are appropriate. PEGI ratings work like cinema classifications- from 3, suitable for three years old and above, to adult-appropriate 18 s. There are also emblem demonstrating what sort of content to expect, from scary scenes to sexuality.

” Game can instil amazing character traits like perseverance, kindness, cooperation and strategic reasoning ,” he says.” And gaming health is about a balanced diet. With food, we don’t worry about plate day, it’s what’s on the plate that matters. Similarly, it’s what’s on the screen that’s important .” In other terms, aimless YouTube surfing isn’t the same as the amount of time spent playing a well-planned strategic game together.

” Also, don’t presume they don’t want you involved. Demonstrate some interest early, and you might have a connect for life .”

If you’re just not interested in joining in, you can still set limits. Discuss with them how many hours a day they think it’s appropriate to play, what kind of games you are comfy with. Make sure it’s a dialogue and that, although you are the ultimate arbitrator, they still have some say.

4 Keep lines of communication open

” There’s no doubt that the way you communicate will change ,” Major says.” If you experience this, the rowing, the cry, the melodrama or the silent treatment can feel very personal, but try not to take it as such .” Always keep the channels of communication open. Take the time to learn their language and when they might want to talk.

For example, a face-to-face sit-down dialogue across the table will be too confrontational. You should try to cultivate moments where “sideways” conversations happen, such as in the car or while walking or doing household chores together; this route, things can be much more relaxed and they will often open up or be more receptive.

Major is also at aches to remind parents to continue to include an adolescent in everything they are likely normally do as a family.” A grunt might actually entail,’ Yes, please ‘, so keep them involved. Don’t feel hurt when they reject you; enjoy it when they don’t .”

Annalisa Barbieri, the Guardian’s advice columnist, urges parents to see their children as separate beings from the word go.” What I don’t understand are mothers who want their children to acquiesce when they’re little, but magically know their own minds when they’re a teenager- that’s where the difficulty seems to be .”

5 Set social media standards

Accept that the widening of the online scenery is likely the biggest difference between your own adolescence and that of your child’s. But remember, just as in real life, your adolescents will need borders in their virtual worlds.

Keep tabs on what they get up to, Morgan says. Educate yourself, if necessary, but develop a mutual trust.” Only when we engage with the positives can we negotiate and encourage healthy behaviours .”

Give them some tech responsibility at home- sorting out a dodgy Skype connection or, if they have younger siblings, ask them for help is speaking to online security. Show trust where you can.

To help them see that life’s not all online, let them select an offline activity you can do together. It doesn’t matter what- climbing, cake decorating, whittling, kite-flying, surfing. It’ll give them a rush, a new ability- and some good social media pics.

Finally, don’t forget to look at your own habits and define a good example.” It’s difficult to lay down the law if you can’t stop looking at your phone ,” Morgan says.” Model good behaviours to them .”

6 Take mental health seriously

Many common mental health problems, such as depression, have their onset in early adolescence.

Natasha Devon, a children’s mental health campaigner and the author of A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental: An -AZ, often gets asked when “normal” teenage behaviour becomes a mental health issue.” It doesn’t matter. What if your partner said to you,’ Is this really serious, or is this just the menopause ?’ How would that stimulate you feel? If someone genuinely indicates those who are interested in you and listens to you, then that improves your brain chemistry. Just listen to what they have to say .”

” There seems to be a horrible divide between the generations, based on the fact that adolescents today are growing up in a technologically advanced age. What happens is parents end up telling their teens they should be happy because they’ve got more materially than they ever had. But material things don’t build you happy .”

This rather toxic position towards adolescents is something that Barbieri sees too:” I guess teens are scared of becoming adolescents because adults talk about it in a way that is so scary .”

7 Your role

” Don’t forget your own partnership ,” Major says.” Nurture each other. If you’re on your own, find some subsistence. Act with your partner and don’t undermine each other .”

Consider whether your reaction to your teenager’s behaviour is coloured by your own experiences. Major says:” Maybe you toed the line when you were an adolescent. If you have a youngster who isn’t doing that, be prepared to be jealous of their gutsy response – you might wish you’d done the same .”

Revisiting your youth is important for maintaining your empathy and humor levels, Devon says.” Keep checking in with your teenage self- what would that person induce of your adult life now ?”

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