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Shouting matches, boyfriend and girlfriend drama, staying up till 6 am, alcohol, drugs, slammed doors, unwashed laundry, refusing to do chores, and perhaps teenage pregnancy. These are all things that may come to mind when you hear the word "teenager". Modern Western parents seem to have been equipped with a strong cultural expectation that their sweet little kid will turn into a monster as soon as they become a teen, and that the teenage years will destroy their relationship with their child as well as their own sanity.
Does it really have to be that way? You may be the slightly anxious parent of a tween, dreading the upcoming teen years. You may be the parent of one or more teenagers, and could already be stuck in the drama trap. I spoke to a bunch of mothers of teenagers and adult children, all of whom have a fantastic relationship with their youngsters, to find out what their secret is.
"My teens are great. No drama and no fights," one said. "Our son was an amazing teen who was mostly wonderful to be around," another shared. "We have a good relationship. There is drama, but nothing that makes me think teens are horrible," yet another one said. Then there was a mom who described her teen boys as "the exact opposite of the stereotype" and added that her teens are "kind, caring, responsible and interesting."
Accept Your Teen Isn't A Kid Any More
You remember the days when your child was dependent on you for everything like it was yesterday, and you could — like some parents — still be mentally stuck in those "good old days". Some parents of teens would still really like to tell them which friends to have, what to wear, how to behave, and what to think, believe, and feel. Those days are over. Your teen will be an adult really soon.
What does that mean? Part of it is practical. Teens usually don't need their parents to make all their decisions and do all their chores anymore. They can definitely do their own laundry, but they can also decide which car to buy or complete college application forms on their own, the moms I talked to said. Another part is emotional. Now that your kid is a teen, you can have exciting, grown-up conversations about serious issues. The teen stage is definitely the time to start talking with your kids, rather than at them.
Treating your teen as the young adult they are means respecting them as an individual, who is capable of making choices — choices that are sometimes (and perhaps often) going to be different from the choices you might make.
Treating your teen as a young adult also means respecting their need for privacy. It's great if they want to talk, but they may not want to talk about everything and that is usually totally OK.
Lauren, whose two boys are now grown up, put it like this: "If you are a controlling person who thinks you're always right, and you over-react to every little thing while neglecting to really listen to your teen, you'll get a teen who hates you and who will get away from you as fast as they possibly can."
Ruth says: "I treat my 16-year old as a young adult, and she has a lot of freedom because she is very responsible and has earned it. No, we don't agree all the time! That would be creepy and unhealthy! Not only isn't she a kid any more, she is also not me. There are still times when my teens feel misunderstood or they feel very emotional. We talk about it. That's what you would do if your partner felt emotional or misunderstood."