Ask any parent of teens and they’ll tell you the toddler years were a doddle in comparison. Sure, there were tantrums and potty training, but teenagers are a whole other class of challenging.
For a start, they argue. All. The. Time.
One parent I know has taken to telling her daughter: ‘I only argue at 6am on Sundays,’ while another figures the best way to prevent arguments is to say nothing at all. ‘I go brain dead,’ she says.
But rather than battle teenagers, research shows it’s better for everyone to try and understand them. Teenagers have little control over their bad behaviour and trying to understand that they can’t turn their behaviour on and off may help, says Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University.
He says, teenagers are victims of huge biological and psychological change, and if parents can be reasonable and caring, it’ll make the rollercoaster ride easier for them. Alan has four tips for alleviating the stress that builds up between parents and teenagers...
Pay attention to the good times
Sometimes you’re so focused on your teen’s bad behaviour that you neglect to see when they’re neutral or even civilised. Alan says you should actively look for pleasant moments and ‘catch’ your teen being reasonable. When you have a good exchange he suggests saying: ‘It’s so nice to talk with you.’ Say something quickly and quietly, and go back to what you were doing. He says doing this daily should produce a change of attitude.
Keep punishment mild
Heavy punishments are not effective and will not bring about change, but a small punishment or loss of privilege such as not going out or losing their smartphone overnight is suitably punitive. ‘But it should be brief – one day or one night,’ he says.
Find areas to compromise
Teenagers badly want to be in control, yet they don’t have the rational minds to make all the decisions. Alan suggests finding things you can compromise on so they feel they have more choice and freedoms. ‘The challenge here is to select some things you have said “no” or “absolutely not” to in the past,’ he explains.
Remember these ideas work
When I first read Alan’s ideas I felt frustrated, because it seemed like they were all in favour of the teenager. But he says knowing the recommendations work should be incentive enough to follow them. By focusing on the positive, you will encourage your teen’s good behaviour.