10 golden rules for parents of teens

Parenting teenagers can be a minefield. Experts share their top tips for navigating the teen years and guiding kids into a happy, healthy adulthood.

In their book The New Teen Age, psychologist Jo Lamble and GP Ginni Mansberg outline the key principles that should be every parent’s starting point when dealing with the trials and tribulations of the teenage years:

1. Start with sleep

They need enough sleep (and chances are they’re not getting it).

Studies show the impacts of lack of sleep are huge and most teens – and their parents – don’t recognise the sleep deprivation, even when it is chronic.

Getting enough sleep and/or getting their sleep back on track is non-negotiable.

2. Safety first

Your kids need to know their safety is your first priority.

“Even if you’re doing the wrong thing in the wrong place with the wrong people, call me and I will be there to rescue you.”

We have both nursed our teens’ friends who were too terrified of their parents to call them, even when they were in real trouble.

3. You are the parent, not the best friend

All the collaboration and respect doesn’t make you peers.

You set the rules in your home and in your family. And they need to push back against you.

That’s part of their journey to adulthood: throw­ing off their old constraints and developing their own values, ethics, aspirations and goals.

Having some friction with your teen doesn’t mean you’re a #parentingfail.

4. No drugs permitted in the home

Illegal drugs are illegal.

If your teen doesn’t like the laws, they should join a political party, become an activist, lobby their local politicians and become a part of a change movement they believe in.

But, if having dope at home is OK, then is parking illegally? What about theft? Where do you draw the line?

Be careful not to get onto that slippery slope.

5. No violence tolerated in the home

This applies to everyone. Sibling to sibling. Parent to child. Child to parent. Boy to girl. Girl to boy.

Being angry is natural, but your teens need healthy ways to manage their emotions that do not impinge on anyone else’s safety.

Help them develop self control.

6. Know your child’s friends and their families

We just love having stacks of these fabulous teens over.

And some of their parents have become invaluable allies and good friends.

Your teen hasn’t come home? If you have a long list of contacts in your phone to track them down, your life will be easier.

It also gives you a quick insight into any changes in friendship groups that could be a sign of a problem.

7. Have the difficult conversations

As busy working parents who both hate conflict, the instinct to avoid fights at all costs is strong. We get it.

But avoiding the conversations doesn’t mean the problems disappear.

We have seen countless issues that could have been handled so much more easily if they had been tackled early.

Conversations don’t need to be confrontational or difficult.

8. Build trust; listen well

We all want our kids to be able to tell us stuff.

But there is no use telling them they can divulge anything if they know you aren’t really listening to them when they talk.

If you’re looking at your phone while they’re speaking or if you talk over them and don’t hear their side of the story, why would they be open with you?

Ask questions like: “Why do you think you’ve been drinking?”

Be ready for some shocks; brace yourself. Once you understand their perspective, you can share your concerns.

“I’m worried if you get hammered at a party you could end up in an unsafe sexual situation.”

“I’m worried you’re trying to manage your mental health alone but I think there are better ways. Will you let me help you?”

9. Whose house is it?

It’s your house. You pay the bills; you set the rules.

Your rules are not designed to make life miserable for them.

They are designed to have a functioning, operational home that works in the best interests of everyone.

Your job will be to pay the rent or mortgage, as well as for food, insurance, inter­net and electricity.

Their role is to attend school and comply with the requirements of that school, and to attend meals and family events as determined by you.

Your right to have peace and quiet so you can sleep to fulfil your duties as provider for the family the next morning trumps their right to play Fortnite and yell at their fellow players until 1am.

10. Seek help when needed

You’re not supposed to have all the answers.

You won’t be judged if you reach out to your GP, a paediatrician or adolescent psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, or the school principal.

Needing further support is not a sign of failure.

It means you are willing to do whatever it takes to support your teenager on their way to resilience and independence.

Edited extract from The New Teen Age by Dr Ginni Mansberg and Jo Lamble. Murdoch Books RRP $32.99.