Parenting: Why Teenage isn’t a number

“She’s SUCH a Teenager!!”

I’m betting every parent knows where that came from, even if their oldest child is only three. There’s even a term for it – threenager. Every exasperated mother who’s ever manhandled an obstinate toddler into a pushchair, or been struck speechless by her seven-year-old’s ability to hit a raw nerve understands the fear of what might come next.

If she’s like this now, how bad is it going to be when she’s a teenager..?

What exactly is a teenager?

Where to see bluebells in Hertfordshire

The thing is, teenaged isn’t really an age – it’s a process. Parenting society has come to use the word as a much more generally descriptive adjective than its dictionary definition intends. Colloquially, ‘teen’ is no longer applied to those people aged between 13 and 20, but to imply a much wider series of personality or behavioural traits:

  • A three-year-old having a supermarket meltdown is behaving like a teenager
  • When your primary school child is so angry with your decision they start slamming doors and stomping up stairs, he is teenaged
  • When she cries hysterically for no reason you can fathom, we dismiss it with an eyeroll and mutter about teenage hormones
  • And kids who try to take control over their own lives, dismissing parental advice as uncool? Teenagers.

Except, they’re not. So why do we do it?

Stressful lives

My daughter is 12. Not technically a teenager, and yet we’ve been saying that she is for a good while now. Not because of any particular behaviour, but because of what she is dealing with. Becoming an adult is a long and stressful process, and stages of it happen at different points in your life, depending on any number of things, from hormones and peer group issues to pure chance. As a parent, it’s a really difficult transition to make. You seem to go suddenly from main confidant and advisor to frustrated bystander almost overnight. And yet it is as wonderful as it is alarming to watch them step out down the path to independence.

I’ve struggled recently to know how to advise my eldest. Of course, I want to tell her what to do, and watch her do it. That used to work pretty well. But now, she wants to do everything her own way, and is hit by upset when things don’t work out. And I just have to watch, painfully. She doesn’t even want to tell me about it most of the time. I’m usually impressed by how she approaches things, but it’s never going to be a smooth journey, is it? And that’s where the real hard work begins.

Failing your child, or allowing her to learn?

I let my daughter down last weekend. She had a situation on her plate that she chose to manage in her own way. I tried to prompt her, I judged her when she made some mistakes, and I urged her to be considerate of others. I coached her all weekend, until on Sunday evening she finally asked me to back off. “I hear you Mum.” she told me. “But I just needed someone to tell me I was doing the right thing for me. In the end, I googled it, and found a thread full of reassurance from people who had been in the same situation. It made me feel better.” She googled it… And just like that, I’ve lost her a little bit more. I should be happy that she’s standing on her own two feet, being resourceful in finding what she needs. But I feel like I failed, where independence won.

Why growing up is harder than it used to be

Teenagers, in my opinion, get a bad rap. Yes, there are those who let the side down, present a crappy image, and give the rest a bad name. But largely, from what I see in my own community, teenagers are just a bunch of kids trying to wade through an ever-increasing treacle of pressure.

There’s social pressure – who you should be friends with, who you shouldn’t, who will cause you problems if you aren’t, or if you are; kids are just trying to figure out where they fit, and it’s a minefield. As an adult I worry if one of my friends says something I perceive as judgemental; imagine how much of that is going on in a teenager’s head!

Social pressure is augmented infinitely by the advent of social media. I’m going to show my age here, but when I fell out with a friend or did something mortifying at school, I came home and stewed with a bit of Soft Cell. The worst it ever got outside school was a phone call, with my mum eavesdropping in the kitchen. These kids put it all on their phones, instantly. If they don’t someone else does, and out it all comes. The need for feedback, to hash it all out over and over and over is so compelling it’s difficult to resist. It’s awful, it’s incessant, and it’s exhausting. If you’re a parent who doesn’t monitor what your kids do online, you really should – it will give you some understanding of what they’re dealing with.

Then there’s work pressure – the curriculum sees kids put under so much expectation to excel, and not just in academic ways. Now, it’s not enough to get good grades and hand your homework in on time – you have take extra-curricular music, drama AND sports. And they want to. Schools are filled with wonderful opportunities – who wouldn’t want to take part in that? And yet where is the down time?

Then let’s add in relationship issues. I’m going to get eyerolls from the kids now, but I had my first boyfriend when I was 17. Before that I had awkwardly dated one other boy, once. My dad insisted on driving us to the cinema, and he chatted to the boy in question. IKR*… Over before it began. These days it seems to be essential to have formed some kind of relationship as soon as you hit secondary school. These kids are 11, and they’re trying to handle tricky emotions, stay respectful, and keep their friends onside, with no experience, and no desire to hear how their parents did it.

And we haven’t even got to sex and alcohol yet.

So maybe, just maybe, we should cut the kids some slack, and start using the word teenager as it was originally intended? After all, when did you last see a teenager face-down on the floor screaming over a packet of crisps?

*IKR: I know right. Discovered in the internet slang dictionary I am having to resort to, in order to understand even half of what my daughter says online…

Do you have any tips on preserving parents’ relationships with teenagers?

28 thoughts on “Parenting: Why Teenage isn’t a number”

  1. I just think we need to listen to them, try to talk to them, realise they are growing up and are no longer our babies, and cut them some slack as it’s not easy living with all those hormones playing havoc. I just think that a lot of the bad behaviour is not their fault or at least not done on purpose….

  2. It is a minefield! But it sounds like your daughter is managing things pretty well. My only advice is keep your sense of humour and be there when they need you.
    Although as the parent of two teenage boys, I do think they have it easier than girls. Certainly I don’t see any of these traumas and I’ve been parenting teenagers for nearly three year

    • Thanks Sarah, I think it’s just different, probably not easier. Having a girl makes me even more worried for my boy when it’s his turn! I guess the hard thing is to let them learn by their own mistakes; sometimes it’s difficult to stand and watch that, when you’ve been used to solving all their problems for them. Necessary rite of passage though, I suppose! Hard too to realise quite how many mistakes you’re making as a parent too! After 12 years I thought I knew what I was doing, but this is a whole new learning curve!

  3. I think ‘googling it’ becomes preferable to asking mum sometimes – anything is! I’ve found this step of independence so hard but that’s what it is and it’s a rite of passage in a way. Eventually, I think they realise that the advice you gave was actually the one they found on google but they just don’t want to hear it from their parents. Being the parent of a teenager is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done yet it’s harder still for them, especially these days. I think it’s important to remember that. X

  4. Another great article and totally agree with everything you’ve said. I guess at the end of the day we need to try to strike that tricky balance of being none judgmental whilst trying to give sound advice and teachings at the same time. I’m a firm believer in keeping communication channels open with our kids, my son now 13 and 1/2 and already I see in his friends, the kids who have super strict parents, are already being mis-led on where they are and who they are with….I guess having a child with a Chronic health condition makes me more mindful of this and I want to avoid that at all costs.

    I think the only tip you’ve missed from your great advice on how to survive these years is WINE….LOTS OF WINE….and Spa days. 🙂

  5. My son is nearly 14 now and I am loving him being a teenager, we have a few things to navigate together but so far he is really cool and very good fun. I am all ready for that to change when my girls hit the time! I think it is fab that your daughter (do you still refer to her as GG? or is that to young now?) talks both to you and finds her own answers. Mich x

    • Oh they are totally good company when they’re on form, aren’t they? I’ve loved that. Got to take the rough with the smooth I guess!

  6. When people ask I always tell them that parenting is hard whatever their age but when they hit teenage years I have definitely found it the most challenging. I have got two through it and dealt with first loves, heartbreak, exam pressure and general fallings out. I try to tell them to be careful what they put on social media but it often falls on deaf ears.
    The key is to let them make their own mistakes and to be there to help them pick up the pieces. Much as it’s awful to witness sometimes the only way to learn is from their mistakes.
    My daughter didn’t speak to me for a year at one point but now we are closer than ever!!

    • Oh Kara you’ve made me tearful with that. That’s so so reassuring to hear, thank you. Just need to hold my nerve then!

  7. ‘After 12 years I thought I knew what I was doing, but this is a whole new learning curve’

    THIS is totally how I felt when my son went to high school. We had a difficult time with him for about 18 months, which I swear was his hormones coming in and him not knowing how to handle them. It was a HUGE learning curve, and as a family we went through some difficult times. He is now 15 and a joy to be around. Daughter is 11 and I suspect the teenage years might be slightly different with her. The good thing is, you are never alone in this crazy world of parenting. Hugs xx

  8. My daughter is 11 and is in the last year at junior school. I feel everything is going to change once she goes to secondary school and not in a good way!

    • Ah it’s ok. Secondary school has been amazing in lots of ways – so many new things to learn and do, and it’s brilliant for their independence. But it is a massive learning curve, that’s for sure!

  9. My eldest went through the ‘change’ when she was 14, before that she was my little girl, and 6 months later she was a young woman. Even I cold see that it was no longer appropriate to tell her what to do, so instead we discussed and negotiated, and if she wanted to do something or go somewhere I did not stop her, but instead we agreed how she could do it safely. And there were very few problems, but perhaps I was just lucky.

  10. I think that it is getting harder and harder as a parent, espeically when you throw in the Internet and Soical Media. Maxi is the same ag and I think he is growing up must faster than I did. I am learning as I go and making mistakes along the way too. We are really strict with screen time and that helps and he is an honost and open boy at the moment. For me it is all about listening.

  11. My children are 7 and 4 and I already worry about the pressure that will be on them by the time they get to Secondary school. It’s so different to when we were kids. If there were problems at school you got to come home and close the door. Done. Now with social media there’s literally no escape for kids. I’m sure you’re doing a great job and I always think if I remind myself how hard emotionally those years were, I’ll do my best as a parent to not be so hard on the kids when they’re going through that stage of their lives. I’m sure it’s easier said than done though x

    • Ahh see I just switched off from my parents completely. Really trying to avoid that with my kids, but beginning to realise how hard my mum must have found it all!

  12. I haven’t quite hit the teenage years yet, but I can imagine how hard they must be. I’m sure you didn’t let your daughter down, and the fact that she can talk to you is wonderful too.

    I am trying very hard to encourage my children to think of others at the moment, but I’m not sure how much goes in. xx

  13. I’ve done the whole teenage thing with my oldest, he will be 21 this year and he was an absolute breeze but I am dreading Boo getting there. She’s a totally different person to him and I am really scared for the way life is for them nowadays.

  14. Both mine act like teenagers but I’m a few years off them being that age, quite relieved as I have no idea how to deal with a real teenager so I’ve got a lot of learning to do in the meantime!

  15. I know I’m really lucky but Bethan is a very easy teenager (so far).

    We’ve had the alcohol issue already where she came to me and said she really wanted to go to a party (on the beach of all places) where there would be alcohol. I just couldn’t do it though even though she’d been honest with me and promised she wouldn’t touch it – I ended up taking her and her friend who also wasn’t allowed to go to a theme park instead and they had a much better time!

    • Oh goodness it’s all happening so young isn’t it? I’m hearing from parents of 13 year olds that alcohol at parties is quite common. Life is changing so fast!

  16. I think we just need to be there for our teens, like you say – it’s so much more difficult growing up for this generation. Luckily my daughter is in a nice crowd of girls and I know a couple of their mums….it’s great that we can talk to each other if we have concerns 🙂


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