How Well Do You Know Your Teenager

Following on from last week’s column I would like to address the issue of how well do mothers and fathers know their teenagers. An interesting survey in Britain found that teenagers rated mothers above fathers in all but one of the thirty-six categories – the exception being driving! Given that adult males cause more accidents, the latter finding is worrying. Over 500 teenagers were asked to rate their parents on such issues as communication, advice-giving, school homework, literacy, sexuality, public outings, privacy. Parenting children and teenagers is largely about love, limits and lettings teenagers be. Whilst the study indicated that teenagers rated mothers higher than fathers across all the essential parenting categories, it alarmingly showed that a high number of teenagers not only rated their fathers poor at parenting, but their mothers as well – indeed, 41 per cent of teenagers rated their experience as less than good. Fathers were often portrayed as second best, deadbeat or more concerned with their jobs than the wellbeing of their sons or daughters. A further worrying outcome of the 2008 survey is that 43 per cent of the teenagers felt they could manipulate their mothers while one-third felt they could manipulate their fathers. Sadly, it is often because of this very weakening of parental resolve that teenagers manage to get themselves into trouble.

In terms of knowing teenagers, many parents can delude themselves that they know their teenager and can be in quite a state of denial when trouble knocks on the family door – ‘I know my son would never do anything like that’ – even though the proof of the wrongdoing is staring the parent in the face. This kind of denial can spring from a need to be seen as the ‘good’ parent and the parent who is not in the mature place to see that we all get it wrong sometimes is unlikely to see any ‘wrong’ in her offspring.

Getting to know a teenager is not about making sure he doesn’t get into trouble. Knowing another is crucial to mature communication in the relationship. Getting to know a son (or daughter) takes being interested in him, being committed and engaging in active listening, showing a non-invasiveness of his private space and a willingness on the parent’s part to self-disclose. Knowledge of a teenager needs to be gained through the open experiencing of him and not through subterfugal ways which break trust in the relationship. Teenagers are very adamant on the issues of privacy and requiring their own space; their own room is their private space as is their diary containing their private thoughts on self, peers, the past, the present and the future.

It is difficult when a parent has a worry that a son or daughter may be taking drugs, abusing alcohol, engaging prematurely in sexual activities, not being where they are supposed to be or being where it is not safe for them to be.  The most effective ploy here is to bring your concerns to the young person, not in any accusatory way, but in an open, honest and authentic way such as communicating ‘I am worried that you may be experimenting with drugs and I want you to know that I care for your welfare and am here for you’.  Watch for the young person’s response, particularly the body language that accompanies any verbal attempt to reassure you, ‘Ah Mum, there’s no need for you to worry about me’.  When there is no accompanying eye contact, or the tone of voice is tentative or the message is given ‘on the run’, then further expressions of concern are required along with closer but open supervision of your teenager’s whereabouts.  Whether teenagers like it or not, parents are legally responsible for their welfare up to the age of 18 years, and have a right to know, for example, who they are with, where they are going, what time they will be home.  When teenagers do not co-operate with these rights of parents, parents are required to set down very definite boundaries around what is permissible and not permissible, but they need to ensure that their expectations are reasonable and that the ways they express these needs are always respectful. Furthermore, when teenagers are not regularly co-operative, a deeper enquiry is needed: ‘how is it that you do not co-operate with what are reasonable requests?’

The checklist below is a guide to some of the important things that parents need to know about their teenager:

                  Do you know:

  Do you know why?

  Who is his/her favourite singer or group or composer?

If parents have the answers to the above questions this would indicate a strong knowledge of their teenager; not having any of the answers indicates the need for an increase in efforts to know more fully the ins and outs of their teenager’s life.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical Psychologist/Author/National and International Speaker and Director of several NUI courses on Communication, Parent Mentoring and Relationship Studies in Cork and Dublin.  Details of these courses are available on his website or contact Margaret at 021-4642394.  Closing date 14th September.