Last week saw Rayden Solicitors host a panel of experts at our Supporting Teens and Tweens Seminar held at the Rothamsted Conference Centre.
The panel featured Dr Lisa Barkley – Principal Clinical Psychologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital; Sue Atkins – parenting expert and regular guest on ITV’s This Morning; Sharn Tomlinson – CEO of Mind Mid-Herts and Patricia Seabright – qualified coach and founder of the National Teen Trust.
As a parent of two nearly “tweens”, I took note for the future. There were a number of standout messages and thought provoking comments. My top ten take outs for the future are:
- Rejecting parents and trying to be independent is not just normal in teens and tweens but necessary. They need to do so in order to start developing their own views. It is a task of adolescence. As parents, we need to create space so that irrespective of how teenagers explore or what boundaries they push, they can come back to their family in the future. This doesn’t mean “no rules”. We need to hold firm as parents and set boundaries. Often teens need their parents to set limits so that their parents can be the bad guys they need and they can use them as an excuse to stay safe.
- As parents we must allow our children to take risks and allow them to fail. This is an important part of growth in teens and tweens: teaching lessons, enabling them to find their limits, values, confidence and resilience. #failingforward
- If you don’t listen to the small stuff they won’t tell you the big stuff. Make time. This is so simple but such a challenge when you are struggling with multiple children, multiple activities, school and work. One of the more practical tips was to make use of driving time on the way to or from school or to activities. Being alongside each other in a car, particularly for difficult conversations, is much less intimidating. Don’t just have a conversation once: repeat, repeat, repeat.
- You need to talk to your child/teenager not when you want to talk to them but when they want to talk to you. Look for moments of time to reach out and connect. If your child won’t or can’t open up to you find a trusted older person whom they might open up to. Recruit a trusted advisor. The key is that they have someone that they can talk to.
- As a parent, check your own values and where your prejudices lie. Gender roles are changing, as is perception of sexuality. As a parent don’t mix up gender roles with gender identity. Evoke love, acceptance and non-judgement so your children feel welcome and part of your family irrespective of who they are. Your child simply needs for you to be there.
- Don’t just talk about sex but talk about consent and protection. You don’t learn to swim when you are drowning. Kids from the age of 12 will be having some sort of sexual contact. Some girls go through puberty when they are 9. Conversations about the body, sex, consent and protection can’t start early enough but you have to have them in an age-appropriate way for younger children.
- Address opportunities for cyberbullying. Have computers in public places only and no tablets or mobile phones in the bedroom. If they are on social media, set boundaries e.g. if they are on Facebook, you are their friend. Help your child to understand that they could be a bully with comments they might make online. Evoke their empathy and help them to understand the impact of their words. There is a fantastic initiative through ITV on #bekind: http://www.itv.com/thismorning/hot-topics/pledge-to-share-our-anti-bullying-message
- There has been an increase in the accessibility of pornography as a result of more mobile technology. This has skewed teen perceptions of self-image and sex. It has also lead to the sexualisation of increasingly younger girls. There is increasing pressure on young girls to look a certain way based on unattainable images. More accessible pornography affects boys and young men. Experts have seen a move away from equality. Teen boys begin to see women as objects rather than equals. The advice is that parents need to tackle this head on by talking sensibly about it. More importantly the advice was not only to talk to girls about the sexualisation of themselves but also to talk to boys about how they perceive their bodies too. They may feel pressure to sexually perform as they have seen on screen. For both boys and girls there is likely to be a misunderstanding that everybody is having sex when they aren’t. Remind them it is ok not to be having sex.
- Given that the teen years are usually marked by a change in personality, when should parents be concerned? Expert advice was that parents should be concerned if a change in behaviour goes on for a long time. If your child is very withdrawn or loud and angry, address it. If you are frightened by their behaviour, tell them. Your children love you even if they look like they don’t or say that they don’t. Often kids are trying to protect you from what they are going through or what they are feeling.
- Don’t assume that the behaviours you have seen are the problem. Very often the class clown has problems accessing the curriculum, bullies are often very unhappy themselves, risky behaviours can be a result of low self-esteem. Don’t jump to conclusions and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are lots of ways to access help, including through school counsellors. The school should be your friend. Liaise with your school, they will see them in another environment and can add insight.
I have all this to look forward to but it was reassuring that there were so many common themes between both parents and experts in relation to teen behaviour.
In a nutshell: stay honest, stay curious and keep communication open. I’ll let you know how it goes in a few years’ time!
- This is an app mentioned during the seminar as an example of ways parents can harness technology to moderate their children’s online activity https://kidslox.com/
- National Teen Trust (NTT) is a new support group aiming to help the parents of teens and tweens. Think NCT for parents of teenager! Director Patricia Seabright-West was on the panel. https://www.nationalteentrust.com/