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It’s hard to keep the peace with my rude teenager

Our agony aunt, Mary Fenwick, offers a new perspective on whatever is troubling you

by Psychologies

Teenager

2 minute read

Q. My son is 14, being a full-on ‘typical teenager’ and I am struggling. He can be viciously obnoxious and unpleasant to me, which is upsetting. I have managed to keep some rules in place (I take his phone at night and limit his gaming time) but he refuses to come on family outings and gets furious if I try to monitor his schoolwork. I know other parents judge me when they want to meet up and he won’t come, and part of me feels like I should make him, but how? Do you have any tips to manage this better? I don’t know when to enforce rules and when to let things go. Name supplied

A. After four trips to this circus, my main tip is to remember the end goal: both of you want him to become a successful adult.

Your main advantages are the ability to plan and greater experience in managing your emotions. In neuroscience terms, he’s actually dependent on your more stable adult brain – he still needs the love you’ve always given him, perhaps most of all when he can’t explain his own behaviour. You don’t have to get it right all the time, and mistakes are an opportunity to be graceful and a role model for respect.

I wonder how you might give him more responsibility for his phone use. My concern is that taking it away builds conflict into every bedtime, has the potential to become a physical wrestling match and denies him the opportunity to learn how to manage screen time himself. Next time he’s open for discussion, ask him how he thinks it could work, and you might be surprised. Research says young people and adults are equally concerned about the addictive nature of phone use.

Teenagers respond particularly negatively to the idea of being manipulated by ‘the system’ – it’s better if you are working out a joint approach, rather than him seeing you as part of the problem.

With regards schoolwork, could you speak to teachers, provide what they advise, but remember it’s his name on exam papers, not yours? It might be that he needs to feel some pain, even failure, to find motivation. If you read about the science of brain development, it will become easier to see the limits of what to expect. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop; it helps us plan and control our impulses.

He’s also watching how you handle peer pressure – if you want him to resist it, then you need to ignore other parents’ judgements.

The cure for being 14 is turning 15. Your job is to keep calm, let him experience consequences, and love him even more when he messes up.

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.

Image: Getty

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