top of page

What not to do when your child is a teen

PARENTING styles change as children grow up. How you parent a toddler is very different from how you parent a teenager. There are some things that you really should stop doing once your child hits the adolescent years.

Among the things you shouldn’t do are holding your teenage son’s hand in public, and anything that sounds or looks like you’re talking down to your child or treating them like a baby, and that includes berating them.

Counselling psychologist Ivy Tan believes that in Malaysia, some parents still use the authoritarian style of parenting and don’t seem to know when and how to transition to a more authoritative style.

“If you continue with the same parenting style and the child still gives you the same reaction, then something is definitely not right. That’s a call for you to wake up and ask how come my child is not obedient and always rebelling. It’s time for you to reflect and see if it’s your style or the communication or is it something you are not attuned to.

“In addition, in their teenage years you can no longer be authoritarian.

“It’s about communication and respecting their level of indifference. They are forming their own identity. They are at the age where they are thinking in abstract, everything is grey, it’s no longer black or white, whether it is relationships or friendships.

“This is also when they are learning what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s kind of confusing but exciting at the same time. The life of a teenager today is very different from the life of a teenager in your parents’ time or even your time when technology was not so advanced. You need to keep up and know what’s in the best interest of your teen,” says Tan.

Berating your teen

One of the things you should not do when your children are teenagers is to berate them, especially in public.

Scolding your teen in public is a definite no-no because it’s humiliating, your child won’t appreciate it, it will hurt their self-esteem and confidence, and this can lead to them shutting you out of their life.

Tan says that establishing good communication with children is very important.

Miscommunication or no communication can lead to many other issues.

“If there is miscommunication, misunderstanding or dissatisfaction, you don’t yell at the teen because they are past the stage of yelling. You want to bring a teenager to a proper discussion by expressing your dissatisfaction. You could probably ask ‘OK, what can we do differently next time?’ Bring it to a more conversational discussion. You’re actually asking the child to be more respectful of you, so you need to portray or model that,” says Tan.

If you expect your child to talk to you like an adult, then you should model that by talking to them in a calm tone. They will mimic you and how you communicate.

If you find your teenager is screaming at you, then this is not the time to talk to them. Walk away, give them time to calm down and talk to them later.

Reacting by screaming back is not going to resolve anything.

“It’s also about how you deal with your own emotions. If you have problems coping with difficult emotions and you lash out at your teen, then they are not going to learn how to appropriately deal with anger. When they see you lash out in anger, they learn that that is how their family communicates and that is the family norm. Then the teen learns that when they are angry, they either walk away or become aggressive. In that case, they never learn the appropriate way to release anger or be assertive in conversation,” says Tan.

Enter the young adult years

When should you begin treating them like young adults?

This is not something that changes overnight when they turn 13. The change should have been happening gradually as they reached 10, 11 and 12.

According to Tan, parents would know when they should start changing the way they communicate with their child. If you are not attuned to the child’s growth, you will hear things like “My parents treat me like a kid.”

In her experience working with teens, she has heard these lines from them about their parents:

  • They like to give me advice, all I want is someone to listen.

  • My parents don’t listen. They hate my friends.

  • They try to live my life for me.

  • Everything I say, they butt in or they like to take control of everything I do.

  • They’re never satisfied.

  • All they do is ask questions and control my life.

  • Why can’t they just leave me alone?

“These are the comments that I hear, and you can see that the parents are going in one direction and the teens are going in the other direction. This is where the gap develops.

“Definitely when the child starts rebelling, saying ‘I hate you’ or ‘Why are you controlling me’, that’s a red flag. Although it will upset you that your child is talking back, you need to stop and reflect. Did your child use to be like this? What happened to your communication? It could be because the child need privacy now and is moving towards becoming a young adult. There are some things that they would rather not share with their parents and they would prefer to share with their peers. It’s not easy being transparent anymore. So parents have to change their parenting style, moving from parenting a young child to a young adult,” explains Tan.

There are also teens who are overtly quiet and may not want to voice their resentment or frustrations. They take it inwards and when they do that, parents need to be attuned to that as well.

When the child is an infant, you know that when they cry they need to be changed, fed or they need a nap. When they are toddlers, it’s time for them to learn new things and when you communicate with them, there is a reaction. How about when they are teenagers? You still need to be at the same pace with your child, advises Tan.

Letting go

She advises parents to slowly let go and allow their children to make their own mistakes and counsel them through it, rather than being judgmental.

Parents have to understand that the teenage years is when the child prioritises individualism. They want to find an identity for themselves; they want to find out who they are.

It may look like rebellion to parents because of the way they want to find themselves. It may look like they want to stray from what their beliefs are and some parents may see this as them going against the family values. Instead of yelling at the teen and forcing the child to comply, parents need to understand why they are doing it.

Tan suggests parents talk to their teens, tell them something like, “What’s going on? I see that you’re trying something that’s very different. We disagree on this, but we’d like to hear what it is that you like about it.” You need to view it from that angle instead of saying that they’re wrong and telling them not to do it again. Then you’re not giving your child an opportunity to try and explain.

Parents should also understand the physical and emotional changes their teenage children are facing. They’re also going through a lot of difficult times with all these changes.

“You may wonder why they are so moody now, but you need to understand that they are going through a roller coaster of hormones. They probably cannot articulate to you what’s going on, so then they project anger. Instead of reacting to it, you can respond by telling them that you will talk after they cool down instead of insisting that they talk to you there and then.

“It’s really about how attuned you are to understand the level of your child’s needs and wants. At this stage they also like to explore and exercise personal power. Parents may question why their child is challenging them. This is part and parcel of growing up, and if they don’t do that then you should be worried. It’s good that they are challenging and questioning as it means there is critical thinking going on. Wouldn’t you be worried if they just agree with everything you say?”

Building trust

While parents seek to understand their teenage children, they should check themselves and not cross the line by spying on their children.

Just because your child doesn’t share everything with you, doesn’t mean the child is up to involved in something bad.

Being paranoid makes you anxious and paranoid and when you’re anxious and paranoid, you tend to project anger, explains Tan.

Rather than being paranoid and spying, parents should spend more one-on-one time with their teenager. This creates opportunities for conversation and for the teenager to confide in the parent.

This is a good chance for parents to spend time with their children doing more adult activities, such as going for a hair wash or going to the cafe, or even furniture shopping.

“At that age they also see themselves as having invincible power. They think they can do anything. That’s where you have to continue to guide them. If they make a mistake, they are still in the safe zone where you can still guide them. Individuation is part of them at that stage of teen development,” explains Tan.

They may be able to talk intelligently but their actions may not match how they talk. This gives parents an opportunity to guide their children rather than saying no to everything they

want to do.

What to do

Here are three things Tan suggests parents do:

  • Encourage teens’ ideas, thinking, emotions to explore what’s going on.

  • Help them – they really need your help and guidance.

  • Create opportunities for them to learn.

“The opportunities are there; do you want to create them for your teen? You don’t even have to tell them that you are creating an opportunity for them because the more you tell them the more annoyed they will be.

“You probably think you don’t understand your child anymore, but that’s no reason to shut them off. You just have to readjust your attunement to them and what’s going on right now,” says Tan.

Her advice to parents of teenagers:

  • Instead of attacking your teen, state what you feel.

  • Instead of blaming, give more information.

  • Instead of threatening, offer a choice.

  • Instead of giving a long lecture, say it briefly.

  • Instead of pointing out what’s wrong, state your values and expectations.

Article republished from Brigitte Rozario (15 November 2016, ThotsnTots)


bottom of page