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Living with teenagers - Kirrilie Smout

 

There are many things parents find rewarding about living with teenagers. There can also be some challenges when young people test limits as they become more independent. 

On behalf of Parenting SA, Adelaide psychologist Kirrilie Smout gives parents and carers some tips and strategies for living with teenagers. She talks about ways to communicate and strengthen the relationship between parents and teens at this time of change. 

More information about living with teens can be found at Parenting SA.

The Parenting SA website also has many other topics for parents of children aged 0 to 18 years.

Transcript

Hi I’m Kirrilie Smout. I’m a Psychologist who works with kids, teens and their parents. Today we are talking about some things that can be helpful for parents to know about living with teenagers.

There are many things for parents that are rewarding about living with teenagers. Teenagers often have great senses of humour. Teenagers can have really interesting conversations with parents. We get to see how teenagers grow and develop and we can have a lot of fun with teenagers in the house.

It can also be a tough time. Teens are establishing their own friendships, they’re thinking about what it is that they want out of life. Teenagers often are in a stage of life where their priority is around joining with their own peer group, thinking about what it is that they want in their future. Something else that can also be tough for parents is feeling rejected and hurt. Parents have often put huge amounts of time, love, energy into these children who now are starting to want to move away and do other things. So there are a whole lot of emotions that parents have to deal with.

One of the things we can do to help teenagers feel comfortable talking to us as adults and as parents is to make sure that we act as casual and as laid back as we can, at least in some conversations. Teenagers are allergic to having conversations with adults who seem tense, stressed, irritable, worried or overly emotional in any way. So we want to try and have some conversations with teenagers where we try and give an edge, or an impression, of being really relaxed, not too intense. This might be doing activities while we‘re talking with them. Those conversations in the car often work well, or doing something at the same time as we are talking with young people, allowing humour into our conversation. When we are looking relaxed teenagers are more likely to talk to us.

Something else we can do to help young people feel comfortable talking to us is to use technology. Teenagers are often more comfortable in emailing or texting or Facebook messaging. Even though we’re sometimes in the next room, just sending a text or an email where teenagers aren’t feeling so confronted can actually help them talk.

Keep in mind that teenagers do sometimes find it hard to talk with parents, and that’s OK. One of the things that parents can do is try to set up relationships for their teenager with other adults. So even if the teenager isn’t talking a whole lot to us, if they’re talking to aunt or uncle or school counsellor or therapist or GP, then this can be just as good and just as valuable.

Don’t be afraid to ask teenagers specific questions. Sometimes when we stop at ‘how was school?’ we get ‘I don’t know…fine’. But when we go a little bit deeper and say ‘So, how did it go with John today?’ or ‘Is Jenny still hanging out with Gary’ or ‘What’s happening with that science assignment?’, we will get more information.

Remember teenagers haven’t had huge amounts of conversation experience like adults. It’s sometimes hard for them to think about what are the most important things to say, or to figure out how to express themselves, particularly when they are feeling worried or upset. So make your questions as easy as possible to answer by saying things like ‘is it kind of like this…, or is it more like this…?’,either /or questions. ‘I think if I was in your situation I might feel a bit like this’, or ‘is it more like that?’ ‘Is this the hardest bit..., or is this the hardest bit…?’. Giving those either /or options can make it easier for a teenager to communicate with us.

Overall I would say it can be extremely rewarding living with young people. There is so much fun that we can have with them, so many great conversations. But at the same time it’s important to understand that it can be really tough, and hurtful and frustrating at times. Teenagers are going through lots of changes and they’re learning to be adults. The most important thing is to have a rock solid relationship with your teenager and to work really hard on trying to put those positives in, so you can manage when times get tough.

More information about living with teenagers and many other topics for parents of children aged 0 to 18 years can be found on the Parenting SA website.

If you need help and support, contact a health professional.

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