Living with young people
teen; teenager; teenagers; adolescents; family; parents; adolescence; young; people ;
Watching children grow into mature and independent young adults can have many rewards for parents. There can also be ups and downs in the family as young people test limits and try new freedoms.
It can help to remember that young people:
- are going through rapid physical and emotional changes
- want freedom, but still need the security of their family
- often feel unsure of themselves behind their 'grown-up' attitude.
It is important that parents continue to guide young people during this time. Good communication will make this easier.
Information in languages other than English
Parenting SA has developed a Parent Easy Guide 'Families and teenagers' in Arabic, Dari, Dinka, French and Swahili.
Raising young people and helping them mature can be like a roller-coaster ride. It is a time of many firsts – starting high school, making new friends, learning to drive, and the joys and woes of falling in love. It is a time when young people form their own unique identity and develop their own values and ideals.
It's normal for young people to seem self-centred and demanding, and have lots of ups and downs. You may feel worn down and frustrated at times. You may feel that you have lost your influence and that they have rejected your values. You may fear for their safety as they try new things.
It can help if you:
- are patient and know how to really listen
- adapt to your child's changing needs
- accept different views
- help your child learn from mistakes
- remind yourself that this is a time of change for the whole family.
The teenage brain
Your teenager is going through big changes as they enter puberty. Their body is changing and so is their brain. New connections are being made in teenagers' brains which help them to make decisions, solve problems and to plan things. Changes may go on until their late 20's.
During these changes young people may be:
- more emotional as the 'logical' part of their brain is not fully formed yet. They may be moody, stubborn or angry and change from one minute to the next
- more impulsive and lack self-control or good judgement. They often seek out new experiences which seem like fun but they don't always think about the risks. New experiences don't have to be dangerous or negative – they can be positive too.
Today young people can be more easily influenced by what they see in the media than ever before.Young girls, in particular, get many messages about how they should look and behave. Click here for some tips from the Australian Psychological Society on how you can help your children to develop a positive self image.
A strong bond with your teenager will help you both get through the ups and downs.
Young people and sleep
Young people need more sleep to be at their best. They need just over 9 hours per night. A young person will often want to go to bed later and get up later. This is because the hormone which prompts sleep is released later at night.
Support them to get enough sleep by having good sleep habits. This could include not having caffeine at night, and going to bed and getting up around the same time each day. It's best to not have TVs, phones or computers with internet access in bedrooms when they go to bed.
What parents can do
Build the relationship
Creating a strong bond with your young person takes time and starts early. It gives them a sense of security and builds their confidence.
These are some things you can do:
- talk to them about the changes that are going on in their brain. It lets them know that you understand things are changing for them
- be a good role model. Show them what you expect
- provide structure and routine around things like school and family
- set fair and reasonable limits. They can then learn how to do this for themselves
- help them think about risks and consequences as they try out new things. Support them to choose healthy risks such as sport and travel rather than risks such as smoking or drinking
- help them find new and creative ways to express their feelings, for example music, art, writing or sports.
Spend time together
Young people often want to spend a lot of time with friends. It's how they learn social skills and build their own networks. It's important though to find time to spend together.
- eat together – share things from the day or discuss their ideas and interests
- drive them where they need to go. Young people often talk more easily when they're not looking at you
- take them to a place they like such as a café. Don't make it one where their friends go as this may be awkward for them
- ask their advice about something, for example mobile phones
- encourage them to be involved with the broader family. Young people might complain about this, but a strong family network can help them feel they 'belong'. It can give them a safety net of caring adults to talk to
- expect them to share the chores. This helps them stay involved in family life.
A good relationship with your teenager starts from birth. If things get off track, it's never too late to start again.
Young people feel valued when you show interest in the things that are important to them. You could:
- listen to their music, watch their TV shows or movies with them and talk about them together
- watch their sport or other activities and be supportive. Don't coach them unless you are the team's coach
- get to know their friends. Encourage them to bring friends home and show interest in what they say. Having strong friendship groups means they have people to turn to when they need it.
Tell them things about when you were young, without preaching! Share a laugh with them about some of your mistakes or how things have changed. You could also share something about your own work or interests, as you would with a friend.
Let your teenager teach you new things. It shows them you value what they know and that you are open to learning too.
Show your love
We know we are loved when we hear and see it often.
- tell your young person you love them and give them a hug when the time seems right
- buy their favourite food or something they like. This shows that you are thinking of them
- go out of your way to help them, for example with special projects or picking them up if their plans change
- leave a note saying you feel proud of them
- create a photo poster of them with their family and friends, or a scrapbook of achievements throughout their life.
There is a topic on the Teen Health part of this site, written for young people, which may be interesting 'Relationships with parents – working it out'.
Respect their privacy
Young people need some private time and 'space' and even some secrets from parents. It's part of working out their own values and sense of self.
- Give them some space of their own. Ask before you enter their room.
- Don't go through their diaries or drawers in their absence.
- Don't pry for information except when it is about their safety. It's OK to ask where they'll be and who they'll be with when not at home. Before they go out, a good question to ask is 'What are you going to do to make sure I don't need to worry about you?'
Be a good role model and act in ways you would expect of your young person. They might react if they think there is a double standard.
Good communication is the key during these years. The words you use, your tone of voice, the look on your face and your body language all affect how people react to you. Ask yourself:
- 'What is the message my young person is getting from me right now?'
- 'How would I react if someone spoke to me this way?'
Be a good listener
When young people talk to parents they often get advice, 'words of wisdom' or a lecture before they get to say what's on their mind. This breaks down communication. It also stops young people finding their own ways to deal with things.
Young people need to bounce ideas off others or test their views to work out what they really think. Having family and friends who can listen and not judge helps to keep lines of communication open.
It can help if you:
- hear the meaning, not just the words
- put yourself in their shoes – how would you feel?
- allow for silences without jumping in
- listen to their ideas and concerns without trying to fix things or push your ideas.
If they don't want to talk, don't pressure them. Let them know they can come to you any time.
Be an approachable parent
It's easy for young people to tell parents good news, but it can be hard to tell them something not so good. It can take great effort from parents to stay 'cool' and not react with alarm. If you are calm and open at these times young people will be more willing to tell you what's happening in their life.
Don't worry if they don't want to talk with you about some matters. Help them find other trusted adults they can talk to.
Solve problems together
If you solve problems together you are more likely to find solutions that work for both of you.
- Decide together what the problem is.
- Think creatively about all the possible solutions, and the good and bad things about them.
- Choose one idea and try it out.
- Work out what you will do if things don't go to plan.
- Did it work? If not, go back and try something else.
This helps young people learn how to solve problems. It also teaches them to think about consequences.
Praise and criticism
Praise helps children and young people to feel valued and to learn. Describing their efforts and how this makes you feel is more helpful than praising their personality or character. Telling them they are great, clever or good can pressure them to live up to that all the time. It can make them feel anxious.
For example, a young person who has cleaned up the garden gets a clear message about what they've done well when you say:
- 'What a great job! It's all cleaned up, the weeds are gone and the lawn's been mowed…it looks like a garden now. It must have been hard work. Thank you.'
Don't compare your young person with others, nor to when you were their age. They live in a different time with different social norms and pressures. It can send a message that they're not good enough and that you don't value them for who they are.
Frequent comments about mistakes or failings might cause them to get defensive and to resist change.
Show that you are proud of them whenever you can. Praise them when they make good choices.
Conflict can arise when young people feel nagged. You might remind them of something they agreed to do. They could get the message that they're not trusted, or feel that you are trying to control them.
Nagging can result in sulking or battles. Avoid this by asking yourself:
- 'Will this really help the situation?' and
- What harm is done if I let it go?'
Avoid arguing over small things so you can stand firm on the big issues.
Dealing with anger
Many children grow up thinking it's not OK to be angry. It is important to show young people that anger is a normal feeling that we all have at times. Help them learn how to express anger without hurting themselves or others. It helps if you model the behaviour you want to see.
Anger is often a response to another feeling, for example feeling hurt, scared or frustrated. Try to find out what caused the anger. Talk about it when they've calmed down.
You could have a look at the topics 'Anger – helping your child to manage it' and 'Feeling angry'. You might like also to look at the topic 'Anger – managing the anger in your life' on the Teen Health part of this site.
Conflict can arise when young people start to form their own views and challenge limits and authority. Shouting and angry comments are not helpful. They hurt and create distance.
What you say to yourself affects how you handle conflict. If you say 'Why should I have to put up with this?' you could act in a way that drags out the battle. If you think, 'They are struggling and I need to work out how to support them', you are more likely to be helpful.
When dealing with conflict:
- look for the cause before you react. Listen to what they say
- keep your feelings in check and try to not react to negative comments
- focus on the current issues, don't bring up old matters
- admit when you're wrong without fuss or excuse. This sets a good example. It says that it's OK to make mistakes and to admit to them, and that you don't see yourself as perfect.
You could have a look at the topic 'Conflict and negotiation' on the Teen Health part of this site.
Discipline – setting limits
Young people learn about self-control from their parents and other adults around them. When parents set fair and reasonable limits it teaches them how to set limits for themselves. Setting limits also helps keep young people safe as they seek more independence.
Work out limits together and be clear about family rules. Limits are more likely to work if young people feel they have a say in setting them. It is easier to say 'We agreed on this' when things break down. Work out limits and consequences when things are calm, not in the middle of a crisis.
It's important that consequences fit the rules that were broken and can be quickly completed. For example 'You came home very late after we agreed on a time, so next time I will pick you up' or 'Tomorrow you will have to stay home'.
Be fair and flexible when setting limits for special events like school socials and special parties. Be gentle in times of stress, for example exams or the end of a romance.
Find out what limits other parents are setting. If you are too far from what other parents are doing, your teenager may rebel.
Gradually remove limits as young people become more responsible. This helps build their skills and confidence.
Have a look at the topic 'Discipline (teens)'.
Internet and mobile phones
The internet and mobile phones are central to the lives of many young people. They use them to connect with friends, learn and have fun. Conflict may arise when parents try to control their use.
It's important to know how your young person uses computers and phones. Learn about them yourself so you can talk about safety. You could also ask to go online with them to check that they know the best ways to use the technology and avoid risks.
Make agreements with them about safe and reasonable use. Consider their changing needs, including for privacy, as they mature and become more independent. What's right for a 14 year old won't fit for a 17 year old.
Agreements could include:
- time limits
- limits on how much can be spent on mobile phones, internet and games
- ways you'll filter or keep an eye on their use to ensure they're safe
- use away from the home.
What happens when rules are broken?
The way you handle broken rules and follow through with agreed consequences is important.
Even though consequences have been agreed together, your young person may resist. But if you don't follow through it will be harder to follow through next time.
Be loving, firm and consistent. Avoid long lectures. If you 'lose your cool' they will certainly lose theirs. Give them a chance to try again after they make a mistake. Mistakes are how we all learn.
Be clear about behaviours that are acceptable in your family. Challenge the behaviour not the person.
If you find yourself in a 'power struggle', think about whether control may have become your goal instead of helping them learn to be responsible.
You can improve things by being a good communicator. Don't try to 'win' conversations. Tell them why certain things are important to you or the family. These might be values such as being honest, treating each other with respect, or caring for each other by sharing the chores.
Being in a blended family has unique challenges. Discuss with your partner how you will be involved in their child's life, especially around setting limits and about discipline. This may be best left to the parent.
You might think that the young person is making life hard for you. They could resent you being in their home, or being told what to do by you. They may feel they're not important any more or that they're being 'pushed out'.
Allow them time to deal with their feelings and to adjust. It's a big thing for a child or young person to live with a new adult. Do your best to be patient and understanding. You can be a good role model by being polite and friendly with them.
Have a look at the topic 'Step-families'.
Taking care of yourself
Self-care is an important part of being a parent. Make time to do things you enjoy, spend time with friends and ask for help when you need it. This is even more important if you are parenting alone.
Taking care of your needs can help you feel more positive about being a parent. It also shows your children how to value themselves.
If you are worried about your young person or about family relationships, seek help early:
- talk to your doctor, a counsellor or supportive family and friends
- encourage your young person to talk with a school counsellor or youth worker
- if your young person's moods or behaviours worry you, it could be they need extra support or professional help
- don't accept being treated badly. Seek help if their actions are getting out of control or there is violence.
Hang in there! Don't give up on your young person.
Even if they seem independent, young people always need to know that you are there for them – even when you don't see 'eye to eye'.
The best resource they have is you!
In South Australia
The Second Story:
Free, confidential health services and support for young people 12–25 years, and their parents
- City: Phone 8232 0233
57 Hyde St, Adelaide
- North: Phone 8255 3477
Gillingham St, Elizabeth
- South: Phone 8326 6053
50A Beach Rd, Christies Beach
Phone 1300 13 17 19
A telephone service for young people, 12–25, and their parents
Uniting Communities Youth Services:
Phone 8202 5060
Mon–Fri 9am–5 pm
Therapeutic youth services, family mediation and counselling
Phone 1800 55 1800 or
24 hours. Phone, web or email counselling, resources and activities for young people
Child and Youth Health website, Women's and Children's Health Network, South Australia
Information on child and youth health and parenting
For more Parent Easy Guides including 'Abuse of parents', 'Cybersafety', 'Discipline (0-12 years)', 'Peer pressure', 'Stepfamilies', 'Talking sex with young people', 'What about parents' rights?', 'Young people and drugs', 'Young people and parties', 'Young people who are gay or lesbian', and parent groups in your area
Raising Children Network
Information on raising children
Mental health and wellbeing information for young people, parents and carers
The Hormone Factory
Information for young people about puberty, life, sex and the body. This site is also intended to support parents in talking about these topics
Information on issues ranging from building better relationships to dispute resolution
Women's and Children's Health Network
Telephone (08) 8303 1660
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.