5 top tips to handle a nightmare teenager

Just when you think you’ve got this parenting thing covered, your child turns into a teenager and suddenly you feel like a beginner again. Well don’t worry, it happens to us all, and it doesn’t hurt to remember that being a teenager can be as much of a nightmare as owning one. So here are a few tips to help you get through the last few years of parenthood.  More advice on how to handle a nightmare teenager can be found in my global best-selling book The Rules of Parenting published by Pearson.

group of teenagers on the couch posing for mums magazine

Don’t panic

No, your angelic child isn’t about to turn into a horrible adult. They’re getting all the angst sorted now, so they can be lovely again. If they’re charming and polite to everyone but their own family, they do know how to behave really. They’re just not wasting their knowledge on you. Their problem is that they’re torn in two directions. They know they have to learn to be independent, but they’re also terrified (they’re not going to admit that, obviously). So they spend half their time pushing you away, and half of it clinging on to the comfort and safety you represent. Once they discover that they can cope with being grown up, things will settle down. You just have to hold your nerve.

 

Remember Newton’s Third Law

Of course you do: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s also the first law of teenagers. The more you resist, the harder they push. The more you say no, the louder they shout. So let them make their own decisions, even if you don’t like them, and resist giving them anything to kick against. Treat them like a responsible adult and they’re much more likely to behave like one. And what choice do you have? If you say no, they’ll ignore you anyway – maybe not at 13 but by the time they’re 16 they know you have no power. Don’t give them a chance to prove it.

 

Don’t look under the mattress

You might as well assume that your teenager is sexually active to some degree, has watched porn, and had a drag of a cigarette at some point. And been offered drugs. There’s no point looking for evidence under the mattress though. Even if you find it, what will you do? Confront them? I think not. You’ll severely damage your relationship and they’ll just start keeping it somewhere else. Instead, try remembering all the things you got up to as a teenager and didn’t want your parents to know about. Your child is just being normal.

 

Yelling isn’t the answer

Suppose you child is smoking weed, or has an STD, or is about to get expelled from school. Would you rather they asked you for help, or not? Of course you would. But will they come to you? That’s going to depend on what’s happened in the past when you’ve found out about things. Maybe smaller things – accidentally staining the carpet, or telling you they had a lift home from a party and then you found out they’d hitched. If you shouted and screamed then, they’re not likely to tell you about the serious stuff now. The stuff you really want them to come to you about. They’ll assume it will be the same again, but worse. The absolutely crucial thing is that if they ever do get in trouble, they feel they can talk to you. That won’t happen if you start yelling at them over the half-empty packet of fags you’ve found in their coat pocket.

 

Let them have the last word

Not every conversation you have with your teenager will end amicably. We both know that. Sometimes though, you just want it to end. And the thing that stops that happening is that neither of you will let the other have the last word. They fling some final stinging remark at you, and then you feel compelled to respond, and – oh, look, the ‘discussion’ hasn’t finished after all. Listen, one of you has to be mature enough to bite their tongue and just let it go. And if you can’t do that, how can you expect them to, with all their angst and hormones? If it makes you feel better, tell yourself you’ve won the moral victory when you let them have the last word. And hopefully you’ve won yourself a few minutes peace and quiet too.

book cover for rules of parenting by richard templar

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