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.