What do teens really think about parents and their parenting? What advice would they give them about appropriate rules and boundaries?

Every parent is going to 'parent' their child in a different way and, if there's one certainty in this area, it is most probably that if you try and parent all your children in the same way it's most probably not going to work particularly well. Parenting theories come and go and what was promoted heavily as the 'way to go' a decade ago may not be regarded in the same way today ...

But what do teens think about their parents' parenting practices? When a young person approaches me and discusses the issues they may be having with their Mum or Dad around alcohol and parties, usually complaining about the rules and boundaries that are being imposed, I always ask them why they think their parents are doing what they're doing ... The answer is nearly always the same - "They're trying to ruin my life!" Now, as I always say in response, I'm sure that is not true, but at that point in their life that is exactly how they are feeling. A whole pile of boundaries are being put into place that are stopping them from doing what they want to do and realistically it's pretty difficult to shift their thinking at this point. As far as they're concerned, you don't understand them, their lives are being wrecked and it's all your fault ...

A few years ago, The Guardian newspaper ran an online story from the UK titled 'Your child is going to experiment: what teenagers really think'. It's a great piece and well worth a read. Written by "Suzanne Moore and a load of kids" (you'll understand what that means in a moment), the journalist talks about how it feels to be a parent of a teenager (she was onto her third at the time of publication). But what makes this article really interesting are the pieces written by 10 young people (ranging in age from 13-17 years) at the end, where these UK teens are asked to comment on parenting practices and 'what works' and what doesn't ... If you've got a few minutes, read the full article but I thought I'd just highlight a couple of quotes from some of these teens

"Sometimes parents need to think about giving their teenagers a little bit more freedom and understanding. If we are trusted, then we feel more independent and grown-up, so we are going to come home happy, instead of sitting on the phone all night."

"Parents also need to realize that not all teenagers are rebels. But if we do make mistakes, that's how we are going to learn. My mum sees dangers where there aren't any. Even if you think a certain friend might not be good for us, we have to figure it out for ourselves sometimes."
Marima, 14

"When I go out, my mum worries far too much - she wants to know all the details, who is going to be there, exactly where we are going. Parents worry about us spending time with people they don't know, but I don't know all of their friends, so it's not weird that they don't know all of mine. My advice would be: ask kids for some details, make sure at least one person you know will be there and the time they are coming back, but then give some freedom."

"For me, the secret to having a happy teen is giving them space and freedom - without that, there is no fun and happiness. But you also need to find common ground - with my dad, I watch crime thrillers; with my mum, Downton Abbey. It's good to have a thing you can bond over."
Katie, 13

"Whenever I get told off by my mum, she gives me these really long lectures. Seriously, they are so long that by the end of them I can't even remember what we were talking about. When it comes to my dad, he's much more short and snappy ... Don't  send your kids to sleep with a lecture - if you shout, at least we will remember what it was about ... My advice for parents is, if you want something doing, don't constantly go on about it, just say it once. If you say it multiple times, we just won't feel like it."

"Sometimes parents try to engage with their kids and it goes wrong. One time my mum was texting me, using all this youth language. I was thinking, what's going on? Has someone stolen my mum's phone? I found it pretty weird."
Faris, 13

"When I'm going to a party, Mum wants me to call her when I get there, after an hour, when I leave. She says she wants me to have my independence, then takes it away by asking for the phone number of the place I'm going. They want you to get a job, but won't let you stay at a friend's house. Teenagers are hypocritical about this, too: our need for independence changes by the minute ... Parents worry about our independence. It's probably because they know that we are about to become adults and, in a way, they worry we're going to turn into them."
Olly, 16

"I can talk to my parents about anything to do with school. When I was bullied, I talked to my mum and dad, and it got resolved. I was scared that talking about it could make it worse, but when you've got someone reassuring you, you can clear your head and think straight. As you grow up, your friends become your second parents, but when things are getting out of hand, your parents have the final say."

"It's all about balance. You have to know your can talk to your parents about anything. Parents have to trust their teens to do the right thing, but if they don't, take a step back and still be there for them."
Matt, 17

"I've been doing exams. After the first one, my dad took me out for tea. It was great to have a bit of father-and-son time. I think parents should do that, even just asking how something went or if you need help ... Make time for them (teens) and listen. If your parents are interested, it gives you a real boost."
Craig, 15

"You should talk to teens casually, not all raging and exaggerating the issue. On things like drinking, everyone does it. It's not a new thing and it's just part of being a teen. Despite what the media says, teens aren't bad. We have goals and know about current affairs and how we can change things. We might not watch the news, but we find stuff out on the internet."

"My one piece of advice to parents would be to set boundaries with your teen, but also to let them do their own thing. Make sure they have awareness, rather than saying they can't do something. Don't be too strict, because then teens won't tell you anything. I know people who've gone down that route. Once it starts, you become more distant and then there's no way back."
Katt, 16

When you read these it becomes pretty clear that teens, no matter their age, have a couple of simple messages they want to convey to parents - we're not all bad, we're growing up and want a level of freedom and independence, but at the same time they acknowledge that parents need to balance that with fair and age-appropriate boundaries and maintain a positive 'connection' with them. If you want to simplify that down to a 'parenting style', that's good, old-fashioned 'authoritative parenting' - rules, consequences, bound in unconditional love. Of course, it's never going to be as simple as that - the theory is all well and good but when it comes down to the actual practicalities of negotiating what will and won't be happening on a Saturday night, it is likely never to be easy ... It's important for parents to be aware, however, that amidst all the shouting and slamming of doors and the proclamations of "I hate you!" and "You're the only one who does that!", somewhere deep down (often deep, deep, deep down!) your teen has at least a limited understanding of why you do the things you do!

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