TAM­ING your tiger teenagers

Par­ents need to com­mu­ni­cate about sen­si­tive is­sues and not avoid the hot top­ics, writes Mercedes Maguire

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FAMILY STORY -

W hen it comes to hav­ing some of the most im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions of their lives, many teenagers can only man­age a grunt. So what’s a frus­trated par­ent to do? Ex­perts claim you need to be friendly but firm to get the at­ten­tion of your teen, par­tic­u­larly if you have a big is­sue to deal with. Whether you need to broach the awk­ward sub­jects of sex or pe­ri­ods with your ado­les­cent, or you want to talk about pos­i­tive body im­age or choos­ing the right friends, hav­ing an open and trust­ing re­la­tion­ship is an im­por­tant foun­da­tion.

It may seem eas­ier said than done, but Aus­tralian par­ent­ing au­thor and for­mer Fam­ily Court coun­sel­lor Michael Haw­ton, says get­ting the bal­ance right will pay off. Re­search shows kids have bet­ter so­cial out­comes when they have par­ents who can have fun with them but also know when they need to be firm.

“The two big­gest is­sues par­ents have when com­mu­ni­cat­ing and re­lat­ing to teenagers is de­cid­ing when they need to be firm and then de­cid­ing what to do about it,” says the au­thor of En­gag­ing Ado­les­cents: Par­ent­ing Tough Is­sues With Teenagers.

“It’s a sim­ple case of choose your bat­tles. You don’t want to be go­ing head to head over ev­ery small is­sue like the state of their bedroom or style of cloth­ing. But be­ing firm over is­sues where they are be­ing badly be­haved or ag­gres­sive is im­por­tant.”

Haw­ton out­lines a sim­ple ap­proach on how to have a dif­fi­cult or awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion with your teenager, us­ing the ana­gram PASTA.

P: pre­pare — know what you want to dis­cuss be­fore­hand.

A: ap­point­ment — set aside some time to have the talk. S: say — use sup­port­ive lan­guage. T: tame the tiger — man­age their emo­tions be­fore they get out of con­trol.

A: agree­ment — try to reach some kind of res­o­lu­tion.

Michelle Mitchell, who started Youth Ex­cel to help kids make pos­i­tive life choices dur­ing dif­fi­cult times, says par­ents need to de­cide whether they want to ed­u­cate or dis­ci­pline be­fore go­ing into a dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion.

“There’s no easy way for a par­ent to have an awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion with their teen,” says Mitchell, the au­thor of the soon-to-bere­leased Par­ent­ing Teens In The Age Of A New Normal. “If your aim is to ed­u­cate them about choos­ing the right friends or sex or their pe­ri­ods or drugs, for ex­am­ple,e, then don’t mix in dis­ci­pline — you can’t doo both at the same time. And par­ents need to re­mem­ber it’s re­ally OK for them to have ave an opinion. This is es­pe­cially true when hen you are talk­ing to teens about the sen­si­tive nsi­tive sub­ject of their friends.

“Teenage friends are a big chal­lenge ge to your au­thor­ity as par­ents,” she says. “All of a sud­den your child is look­ing to their ir friends for the ap­proval they used to seek from you.

“You may want to say some­thing like ‘I’m not keen on this per­son be­cause of this, I know you won’t share this opinion,nion, but it’s what I see.’ Be friendly in yourr ap­proach but un­apolo­getic, that way even if they dis­agree, they can clearly see your point.”

While the friends con­ver­sa­tion could get heated, there are some that may have you squirm­ing. Talk­ing about sex and men­stru­a­tion have to rate up there with the most awk­ward par­ent-child con­ver­sa­tions. But health nurse and sex ed­u­ca­tor Vanessa Hamil­ton says that’s no rea­son to avoid the con­ver­sa­tion. “Pornog­ra­phy is cur­rently the main sex ed­u­ca­tor for kids,” says Hamil­ton of talk­ing­th­etalk­sexed.com.au. “As a par­ent, you want to be the first per­son who ex­plains sex to your child and it needs to be pre­sented in an ac­cu­rate and pos­i­tive light, as a won­der­ful thing that adults share.

“When you talk to your child about sex, get rid of the sex word for starters and in­stead talk to them about in­ti­macy and re­la­tion­ships. The ma­jor­ity of what is thought of as sex, is ac­tu­ally out­er­course, not in­ter­course; things like cud­dling, hold­ing hands, re­lat­ing to each other.” H amil­ton says kids who get ac­cu­rate and ad­e­quate sex ed­u­ca­tion early on are less likely to ex­pe­ri­ence teen preg­nancy, get sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases and will be older when they have sex for the first time com­pared to those who don’t get the right ed­u­ca­tion. In Swe­den, where sex ed­u­ca­tion has been com­pul­sory in schools since 1956, they have an eight in 1000 rate of teenage preg­nancy. In Aus­tralia 16 in 1000 teenage girls will fall preg­nant and in the USA, 31 in 1000. Hamil­ton says par­ents need to be pos­i­tive when they talk to daugh­ters about men­stru­a­tion to dis­pel the myth it’s a dirty, dis­gust­ing act that should be kept hid­den. “You want a young girl to un­der­stand her body, why they get pe­ri­ods and how to man­age it,” Hamil­ton says. “And most im­por­tantly, you need to tell her she has some­one to come and talk to about it.” With one in three mar­riages end­ing in di­vorce in Aus­tralia, the need to talk to your teenager about the fam­ily split­ting is un­for­tu­nately com­mon. But Haw­ton, who worked as a Fam­ily Court coun­sel­lor for al­most a decade, says not all par­ents man­age this chat in the best way.

You need to tell them they can talk

Chil­dren can pick up mes­sages from a very young age

“There is no good way to han­dle telling your child about a di­vorce. The best you can do is shield them from in­for­ma­tion they don’t need to know,” he says.

“The out­come you should aim for is to re­as­sure them that you are still their par­ent and you will both con­tinue to be in their life and of­fer them se­cu­rity.

“What you don’t want to do is give them the de­tails of what led to the di­vorce, they don’t need to know it and they don’t want to know it. And don’t put them in a po­si­tion where they have to choose one par­ent over the other. Kids have a right to love both their par­ents.”

There are few top­ics that frighten the par­ents of a teenager as much as drugs, which the Aus­tralian Drug Foun­da­tion refers to as “the other talk.”

Foun­da­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive John Roger­son says the fact drugs are still a taboo topic in many homes ham­pers open con­ver­sa­tions.

In their cam­paign The Other Talk: Lets Talk About Al­co­hol and Drugs, the ADF sug­gest us­ing things like the tele­vi­sion or ra­dio to open and guide your con­ver­sa­tion. A pos­i­tive con­ver­sa­tion would be one where you first ask your child what their views are around drugs and al­co­hol. Then you ex­plain your views, your fam­ily val­ues and your ex­pec­ta­tions.

If drugs and al­co­hol are top of a par­ent’s mind, re­search shows body im­age is near the top of your child’s. It was iden­ti­fied as one of the top three ar­eas of con­cern for young peo­ple in 2016, ac­cord­ing to a Mis­sion Aus­tralia Na­tional Youth Sur­vey.

CEO of the But­ter­fly Foun­da­tion for eat­ing disor­ders Chris­tine Mor­gan (pic­tured left) says pos­i­tive talk sur­round­ing body im­age should start long be­fore any for­mal con­ver­sa­tion takes place.

“Chil­dren are ex­tremely ob­ser­vant and pick up on mes­sages from a very young age, and of­ten in­ter­nalise these,” Mor­gan says.

“This makes con­ver­sa­tions and lan­guage within the home very im­por­tant. Rather than fo­cus­ing on ap­pear­ance, par­ents should try ac­knowl­edg­ing their sons and daugh­ters for their ac­tions or be­hav­iours.”

Mor­gan sug­gests par­ents ask their teen to write a let­ter to some­one they ad­mire about the things they like most about them, but it must not in­clude any­thing about the way they look.

Read­ing the let­ter to­gether can form the ba­sis of a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion and help to high­light that some­one’s worth is not mea­sured by their ap­pear­ance.

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