Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Teenagers and parenting


Teenagers and parenting

Problems and solutions for parents, teenagers and families.

Teenager on phoneParenting teenagers is a challenge, the biggest challenge most parents face. After parents finish saying how stressful, depressing and awful it is having teenagers, when they’re asked what they enjoy about their teenagers, their faces usually go blank. In some cases they look at the questioner as though they must be incompetent to even think there must be anything enjoyable about having to parent a teenager.

With some help and guidance, even parents of the most rebellious and challenging teenagers can find enjoyment in parenting their children – well, most of the time.

The phenomenon of the teenager, (that is, the gap between being a child and being an adult), is fairly new. You might remember in the book by Louisa May Alcott, “Little Women”. When you got to a certain age, the boys would wear long pants instead of shorts, the girls would put up their hair and wear grown up clothes – and from then on you were a 'little woman', not a teenager – you were an adult and expected to behave like one.

Goth girlsFirst remember that ‘bad’ is a subjective word and what you think is ‘bad’ may, or may not be. If we’re not going to play the ‘blame game’ we could try substituting ‘bad’ for ‘irresponsible’ or ‘unacceptable’.

So, supposing their behaviour is unacceptable or irresponsible, try and remember that it’s their job to question your authority at this time. They are still growing and developing and that includes their brain, which will keep growing and developing until they’re 26. This might be a possible reason why one study showed the average age of children leaving home was 28 (see ‘How to parent adult children still living at home’).

As a consequence of us not having any ‘Rites of Passage’ or ‘Rituals’ for the transition to adulthood, we have invented the ‘Teenager’, a kind of ‘no person’s land’ where young people, having no template to follow, have made up their own – for better or worse. Also let’s remember the agony of our own ‘between years’ of raging hormones and pimples. ‘It ain’t easy’ on either side, but being the parent means having the responsibility of guiding your children (as best you can) into adulthood while not ‘crowding’ them, but giving them enough rules and boundaries to push against so that they can individuate and become independent. Some or all of the following might be helpful ...


Kids moving houseIf living together with our grown up children just isn’t working out and you want them to move on, it can be a stressful and harrowing time.

Here are a couple of hints to help you through.

Be clear and calm and honest

In a clear, calm way, tell your child/children you want them to move out and in fact you expect them to. Also tell them why you want them to.

You are the householder/landlord and you have a right to live however you want to in your own dwelling.

It might feel strange to tell your children this as they might look on it as home as well, but if it isn’t working out for you that’s a deal-breaker. Wherever they live, assure them you’ll still be their mum and/or dad and you’ll be there for them come crunch time.


Girl cleaning kitchenIf you don’t mind doing everything for your teens (especially during that really hard year 12 period), read on anyway, you might find something here for you. But if you’re at your wit's end because you’re endlessly doing everything for them (including being the family taxi) and you can’t get them to help with anything, this could help.

First, here’s the battleground from both points of view.

Teens – you want to be treated like an adult but you don’t want the responsibility of behaving like one around the house. Come on, don’t pout, you know you can’t have your cake and eat it too. There are plenty of ways you can assert your independence without being a slob.

Parents - nagging and whinging are not great ways to get anyone to do anything regardless of their age. Be adult, be assertive, plan, execute, stick to it.

The issue

Young people are not trained from an early age to do things for themselves. Then, suddenly, they’re expected to pitch in. They’re not trained to do it, they’re trained not to. Not that it’s ever too late by any means.

If you did start early with your children, congratulations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean because they know how to wash their clothes that they will wash them when there are other priorities like study, going out, hooking up on the Internet etc.

If things have gotten to breaking point for you as parents, here are a few tactics you might like to try.