How to help your teen through the game of life

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From the ages of 13 to 18 it often seems like your teenager knows it all. Teenagers can be very opinionated and disagreeable and it’s natural to worry if your advice is even heard, never mind heeded. But parental guidance is essential at this time, when your teen is going through many new experiences.  And how you get that guidance across is important, as lecturing and giving out won’t cut it.

Help them through puberty
Puberty, defined as that blurry time from 11 onwards, when your child begins to change, physically, emotionally and psychologically is a challenge for the child and parents, who may not know what to expect. A rule of thumb to keep your sanity is to understand that much of their mindset change and responses is down to changes taking place in the growing brain. Continue to be as reasonable as you can throughout the eruptions around mood and disagreements and even those quiet times when your teen doesn’t seem to want to engage. Many parents wonder if moods are purely linked to puberty or if there is something more troubling behind them, like a depressive disorder for which professional help is needed. There are many indicators of depression but it’s worth keeping in mind that any changes in how they engage socially, sleep problems, issues around appetite or food, a marked decrease in school interest/performance that go on for a prolonged period of time and are noticeable, may need outside help.

Help them through social media
Parents often learn about the negative side effects of social media when their child is already having an ‘online’ life. It’s usually highlighted with a problem around cyber bullying which can very often be insidious. Planning ahead and boundaries are everything when it comes to protecting your child online.

Author Tanith Carey’s advice involves thinking ahead and having those conversations before they even join social networking groups like Facebook. Carey who wrote Where Has My Little Girl Gone, says: ‘Warn your daughter she’ll be left out. Probably the most hurtful effect of Facebook is when girls see pictures of parties they were not invited to. Prepare her that this is likely to happen. Warn her about cyber-bullying before it happens. It’s quite likely someone will post something unpleasant or untrue, even though it’s not a reflection on her.’ 

Carey also emphasises the importance of creating boundaries around the web: ‘Keep a boundary around Facebook. Of course your child needs to be in touch with her friends, but be ready to point out if her Facebook use is distorting or distracting from real face-to-face relationships.’

Then there is the importance of conducting yourself properly online and recognising this in other people.

‘Give her a mental checklist,’ says Carey. ‘Remind her that what she means to say may be read differently by other people.’

Help them through course and career choice
At this time of year many teenagers are making life-changing decisions about what course to study at third level, and this is new and unfamiliar territory where your gentle reminders and persuasion is valid, especially as there is so much choice now for young people as regards their next steps after their Leaving Cert exams.

The author Orla McHugh, touches upon the importance of parental guidance at this time.

‘With so much uncertainty to be navigated, the knowledge that they have wise and affirming guides to fall back on for advice and help is paramount. But in order to ensure that teenage  children feel that they have this safe place to come back to, parents need to realise that it is guidance, not dictats, that is needed,’ McHugh explains in her book, Celtic Cubs, Inside the Mind of the Irish Teenager. ‘Therefore when teenagers go to their parents looking for advice, it is imperative that parents explore the issues they are facing, and the implications of various courses of actions, rather than immediately supplying a solution.’

Help them through rocky relationships
It’s painful watching your child go through their first serious relationship break up – the temptation is to wade in and fix it. What perhaps is most difficult for a parent is observing a teenager experience all the emotions including heartbreak which can be overwhelming when a meaningful relationship ends for whatever reason. If your teenager is the instigator in the break up, or is on the receiving end of the bad news, your support should be the same. Social media now makes it considerably easier for a teenager to try and resist a relationship break up by remaining ‘friends’, while having to observe the other person moving on. It’s here that your advice is paramount, by asking them to consider the reasons why they wish to do this and the benefits of coming away from social media to mend their broken heart.

‘When my son broke it off with his long term girlfriend at 19, she insisted on staying friends with me and my other son on Facebook which was very awkward,’ admits Roisin. ‘She kept photos up of them together at her debs and then no doubt saw photos of him with his new girlfriend, a relationship which didn’t last very long, but which nevertheless would have hurt her. I wish someone had advised her that no matter how difficult it felt at the time, the best thing she could have done is to turn the other way and move on. That’s what I would have advised a daughter of mine to do.’

Catherine Devane