How to live with a teenager

Don’t let your home become a war zone, says Sarah Neish


How to live with a teenager

Listen up

Since teens are semi-adults, you need to give what they say respect and validity. ‘Even if it sounds like nonsense to you, accept their right to voice what they think,’ says Tony Wolf, psychologist and co-author of Get Out Of My Life: But First Take Me And Alex Into Town. ‘It’s fine to disagree, but make sure you’re seen to be listening first.’ Ignore a teenager at your peril.

How do they see others?

The impulsive nature of teens can be worrying. ‘Kids develop prototypes for what kind of person does this or that sort of thing,’ says psychologist Meg Gerrard. ‘Teens who avoid impulsive behaviour do so as they don’t have a favourable image of someone who does impulsive things.’ Find out how your teen sees risk-takers. Are they cool, brave, stupid?

Rise above lies

Teens lie regularly and will become outraged when not believed. ‘As far as they’re concerned, the fact they are lying is irrelevant,’ says Wolf. ‘You’ve committed a bigger crime by failing to trust them implicitly.’ Getting caught up in the issue of lying is a trap, as the lie distracts from whatever forbidden thing the teen has done. Don’t lose sight of the immediate issue. Their lying may be deplorable. But it’s also normal.

Don’t try to fix them

Parents often mistakenly believe they must correct a teen’s flaws ‘before it’s too late’. ‘They feel a responsibility to sort teens out now, to stop them growing into irresponsible adults,’ says Wolf. The reality is that our teenage self often bears no resemblance to the adults we become. ‘Adolescence is a sorting-out process, where teens decide which of their parents’ values to accept and reject,’ says Wolf. Leave corrections up to them. There’s no deadline.

More inspiration:

Read Lessons for my teenage son by Sam Cleasby on LifeLabs

Photograph: Goodshot

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