How to survive the terrible teens ~ World Amazing Information, Facts & News

Wendy Miller on a guide to handling the mother and father of all wars

It's not easy sharing a house with someone who thinks you're a total idiot. But if you're the parent of a teenager you'd better get used to it. So say the authors of Surviving The Terrible Teens, a new self-help (or self-preservation) book, based on interviews carried out with 170 different sets of parents.

Laments from cowed couples who took part in the project include: "We are like dirt under our daughter's fingernails"; "We're seen by our son as being the ultimate embarrassment"; and "We're like a bad smell".

Nothing new there. We all know that the average house-with-teens is a war zone and we have become hardened over the years to front-line dispatches chronicling atrocities on both sides. But this book breaks fresh ground in the way it attempts, United Nations-like, to find common ground between the combatants.

"We found there were lots of books on the market aimed at parents with babies and small children," says psychologist Dr Sandi Mann, one of the book's authors, "but there was comparatively little written about how to cope with teenagers. And nothing very constructive." While accepting that teen-rearing can seem like being stuck in a long, dark tunnel, Mann and her colleagues seek to introduce some shafts of optimistic sunlight. Perhaps the brightest is the notion that a bit of adolescent door-slamming is totally normal, if not positively healthy.

"Even the most optimistic parent will agree that some conflict with their teenager is inevitable," say the authors in the chapter Tears and Tantrums. "Parental conflict comes naturally to a teenager."

They list the reasons why it is natural for 15-year-olds to see themselves as heroic resistance fighters taking a stand against an oppressive army of occupation - ie parents. Factors include the need for teenagers to exert independence, push boundaries and demonstrate at every opportunity their 100 per cent grown-upness (apart, of course, from still needing pocket money). At the same time, though, their platform of self-reliance is being continually rocked by rebellious hormones ("Their emotions just won't behave") and by excruciating over-sensitivity ("Everything is a personal insult").

The hardest thing for parents to take is not so much their teenager searching for a new identity, as rejecting the old one. All of a sudden, the little boy or girl who always loved having a big family Sunday lunch starts coming out with: "Why do we always have the same thing?" And, after 13 years of you buying them their favourite biscuits, they suddenly throw the packet down and shout: "Look, I hate Jaffa cakes, OK?"

But although this putting-away of childish things might hurt initially, it's actually a good sign in the long term, say the authors, who point out: "Your teens have a need to experience new things and extend their repertoire of all that life has to offer. Familiar rituals are associated in their fast-developing minds with their childhood, and this is a cloak they now wish to cast off." And not just cast off, but trample into the mud in front of you.

But hostile though these gestures may seem, they should never encourage us parents to see our offspring as the enemy. Just because we find ourselves confronted by a snarling, out-of-control opponent immune to all logic, we as adults should resist the temptation to behave in the same way. What's more, we should admit when we're wrong.

"Saying to a teenager 'I'm sorry, you were right' can stop them in their tracks," says youth worker Jonny Wineberg, one of the Terrible Teens authors. "It doesn't mean you have to capitulate, it simply allows you to calm the waters." That's preferable to having to communicate at full volume, out on the stormy seas of conflict. But it's hard finding harbour quality time, when most of your efforts at parent-child interchange are met with non-committal grunts.

The answer, says Mann, is questionnaires. "It doesn't work for everyone, but if you give your teenager one of our self-identity quizzes, asking them about their fears and worries, and their best and worst qualities, it allows them to express themselves without fear of interruption or judgmental comment from you.

"We asked a panel of parents to try it out before the book was published. Although sceptical at first, they all ended up saying that it was a surprisingly useful starting point and opened up a level of intimacy and discussion that's hard to achieve in everyday life." That said, such moments of self-revelation and tenderness are bound to be short-lived, amid the daily trench warfare of parent-teen life.

But even as the insults rain down on our heads we should take heart, say the authors. "Don't worry the next time your teens start hurling abuse at you for running out of their favourite cereal. Instead, reassure yourself that this is taking them one step nearer to becoming real human beings."


You have a teenager at home? Here's some useful advice:

# Rubbish their heroes; it's like insulting someone's spouse

# Forget that (unlike you) they don't have a job/status to shore them up

# Be dragged down to their level when arguing (you're the adult, after all)

# Accept arguments as inevitable (and even healthy)

# Listen to what they're saying (ie, not in one ear and out the other)

# Try to recall what being a teenager was like (dig out your old diaries)


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