When the going gets tough

Parents of pre-teen children should look away now. The sleepless
nights may be over, the toddler’s tantrums just a distant
memory but, be assured, the worst is yet to come. An increasing
body of research suggests that for most parents it is the teenage
years that are the most difficult. Just as their child enters the
emotional maelstrom of adolescence, the parents’ support
networks begin to crumble away. The result can leave parents
feeling isolated and under siege.

In a recent survey carried out by the Institute for Public
Policy Research, 75 per cent of more than 1,000 parents asked said
that they found their child’s teenage years the most
difficult to cope with. More than half were worried that they were
not doing a good enough job.

The findings have led IPPR researcher Laura Edwards to call for
a service similar to Sure Start to be offered to the parents of
older children. “We need to be matching the sort of commitment
offered to parents of young children through things like Sure Start
with a similar commitment to parents of teenagers,” she says. “If
we don’t then a lot of the improvement we’ve seen in
younger children will not be sustained.”

The IPPR survey matches the experience at parent support charity
Parentline Plus where around 50 per cent of calls to the helpline
are from parents of teenagers.

“A lot of parents are unprepared for the challenges they face as
their child enters their teens and they can become very isolated,”
says the charity’s director of external relations Jan

“It’s a time when the child is trying to find his or her
own space, become more independent and develop their own value
base. Often they do this by challenging their parents. They may
also be breaking away physically, so parents start to see less of
their children. Then there may be issues around experimentation
with sex, alcohol or drugs. All of this comes together at a time
when the informal networks that develop during the child’s
time in primary school suddenly aren’t there any more.”

Like Edwards, Fry would like to see a more structured provision
of services for the parents of teenagers.

“If the government is serious about having a parenting continuum
then there needs to be a lot more support for parents of
teenagers,” she says. “In particular there needs to be support
aimed at those parents who find it difficult to ask for help. There
is a stigma attached to asking for help that we need to break
through. That means doing a lot more outreach work in much the same
way as is done for new parents and for parents of young children.
Of course this all takes resources.”

Fry uses the example of parenting orders within the youth
justice system as evidence for how supporting parents of teenagers
can achieve huge success.

“The trouble is that in order to get the support you need, your
child has to break the law,” she says.

Diane Brown, a healthy communities worker for North Tyneside
Primary Care Trust, has been running a support group for parents
and carers of teenagers since February. Run in partnership with
local Norham Community College the scheme encourages parents having
problems with their teenage children to share their experiences,
discuss their main concerns and provide mutual support.

“It’s about getting the parents together in a confidential
setting, encouraging them to support each other and to decide what
further support they need,” she says.

The group invites experts to talk on specific issues such as
drugs, youth justice, sex education and so on. Parents with more
serious issues can also be referred on to specialist services
dealing with issues such as anger management and domestic

For many the group offers the chance to rebuild their confidence
as parents, says Brown. “There’s a lot of media focus on
youth disorder and parents are affected by that negative image,”
she says. “There’s also a lot of blame attached to the
parents which makes it difficult to ask for support. It’s
quite easy to go to a mother and toddler group and say:
‘I’m having problems with potty training’.
It’s a lot more difficult to come here and say: ‘I
think my son is using drugs or stealing or lying’.”

Brown admits that in the early days of the group there was a
degree of suspicion among the parents as to what was on offer. This
has now been overcome, she says.

“It was difficult to start with. People were saying
‘nobody’s going to tell me how to be a parent’,
and it took a lot of work to encourage people to come along. There
was a degree of stigma. I made the deliberate decision to hold the
groups away from the school as a lot of the parents went there
themselves and are still known to the teachers.”

In fact the decision to hold the meetings in a nearby community
centre has had an unforeseen benefit in encouraging the parents to
become more involved in their local community.

“Its been a fantastic springboard,” says Brown. “Every single
parent has now joined at least one other community group.”

Remember, you were a teenager once

Tips for parenting teenagers…

  • Be prepared to set limits but trust your children and
    don’t try to control them. Teens respond better to more
    communication and negotiation and less direct supervision and
  • Prioritise and choose your battles, don’t give the
    sameintensity to disagreements about things like hair and clothing
    as you do to issues like alcohol and drugs. Be prepared to be
    flexible about the less important things.
  • Listen respectfully to their opinions without having to agree
    with them.
  • You may be hurt by your teenager but try not to take what they
    are saying personally, they often hit out hardest at the people
    they love and trust.
  • Remember your own teen years and what you and your parents
    clashed over.
  • Look after yourself. Parenting teens is hard work and you may
    need time and space to recharge.

Source: Parentline Plus www.parentlineplus.org.uk

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