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How can I be a better mother to my teenage son?

Our agony aunt Mary Fenwick offers words of wisdom to help with whatever is troubling you

by Psychologies

Q. My 15-year-old son can be rude and difficult. I feel that I constantly have to keep the upper hand to be shown any respect, and I am the kind-hearted sort, so this is not how I work naturally. As my husband reminds me, he is not into drugs or drink – his main interest is gaming – but I do feel hurt by his antagonistic behaviour, and disappointed when he lies (mostly when he breaks house rules). I am also anxious that he is lazy and shows no initiative. I feel as though I have become a walking boundary – any tips? Name supplied

A. My top tip is that teenagers are like toddlers, but bigger and with added alcohol. (I can feel my own children rolling their eyes.) Just like a toddler, he needs your love most when he seems to value it least. 

Your son is struggling with waves of experiences so new he probably can’t even name them yet. He needs you to be a role model – with your more stable adult brain – to help him stay anchored and calm. What we are aiming for is authoritative parenting. It is a middle way – neither authoritarian (I know best) nor permissive (you know best) – and it sounds as if it will fit with your desire to have house rules while also being kind. An authoritative parent might set high expectations, but will place an even higher priority on remaining emotionally in touch. Basically, you show respect for his feelings, so he learns to respect yours.

I checked with my own son, now 21. He says: ‘The main thing for me is you never know which experience is going to stick in our heads as definitive.’ From that point of view, two things are worth looking at more closely. One is the word ‘lazy’, which could be a way of using shame to control behaviour, and is not great in the longer term. The other is the gaming. If you have a concern beyond what you’ve mentioned, then it’s a chance to flex your authoritative style.

Two mantras that help me in tough times: ‘the best cure for being 15 is turning 16’ and ‘teenagers are nature’s way of reminding you that it’s time to think about them leaving home’.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Photograph: iStock

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