Why only you can save your teenager


Any­one fa­mil­iar with Face­book will know there’s a lit­tle green dot that ap­pears next to your friends’ names when they are on­line.

So it was when I no­ticed my daugh­ter was us­ing the app at 10.30 one evening — an hour af­ter her bed­time and 90 min­utes af­ter de­vices have to be sur­ren­dered to the kitchen bench.

I loathe the polic­ing part of parenting — give me two night feeds and a nappy change any day over teenage law en­force­ment — aka hostage ne­go­ti­a­tions with THE GEN­ER­A­TION THAT IS AL­WAYS RIGHT.

Nev­er­the­less I marched down to her room, where she was either deeply asleep or pre­tend­ing to be deeply asleep.

“Why are you on Face­book — do you have an­other de­vice in your bed­room?” I asked in the sort of calm, au­thor­i­ta­tive voice parenting man­u­als rec­om­mend. “No Mum,” she said drowsily. “I for­got to close the app when I put my phone on the bench.”

It sounded suss. But she’s a good kid. The pre­vi­ous week she’d re­turned $50 to a woman af­ter see­ing it drop out of her pocket. A shop­per watch­ing was so im­pressed he re­warded her with a packet of Ro­los for be­ing so hon­est.

The next day some­thing about her ex­pla­na­tion nig­gled so I con­sta­bled up and in­ves­ti­gated.

Turns out my 14-year-old perp is some­thing of an am­a­teur; an old iPhone 3 was not-so-sneak­ily hid­den down the far side of her bed.

Ly­ing is a teenage rite of pas­sage. It’s up there with pim­ples, messy bed­rooms, self­ab­sorp­tion and a re­luc­tance to visit rel­a­tives. But it’s also a dirty great pot­hole in the path to trust and one that’ll make life both im­pass­able and im­pos­si­ble if left to worsen.

“Sweet­heart, are you sure you didn’t have an­other de­vice in your room?” I asked the next day. She de­nied it, ven­tur­ing an ex­pla­na­tion both con­vo­luted and im­plau­si­ble. She for­gets I spent eight years as an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist.

Ca­su­ally I ques­tioned her into a cul de sac. She went silent. And in those few min­utes, side by side in the car, I knew this was parenting at its most im­por­tant.

Child­care is now a boom in­dus­try, a vote win­ner, a touch­pa­per topic on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio, and a key mea­sure in the pro­gres­sive­ness of a na­tion.

Breast­feed­ing and vac­ci­na­tion, quite rightly, garner clicks, com­ments and cam­paigns. But when it comes to ado­les­cents the po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity ap­pears to dry up. It’s as if hav­ing got them through pri­mary school we run out of puff; that all those years of jug­gling home and ca­reer are now over be­cause, re­ally, can’t they sim­ply look af­ter them­selves? They cer­tainly look like they can.

But we’ve got it wrong. The hard work, the value-set­ting, the char­ac­ter-build­ing, the lis­ten­ing, the emo­tional close­ness, the role-mod­el­ling, the trust — it all hap­pens from 12 on­wards.

You might have pulled their tod­dler fin­gers out of the power sock­ets and baked birth­day cakes and driven them to ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, but if you give up on parenting at that tricky teenage axis where tech­nol­ogy meets at­ti­tude then you’ve let them down at the mo­ment they need you most

Psy­chol­o­gists note that we’ve gone from loose/tight parenting — free­dom to roam in the early years then close su­per­vi­sion and cur­fews in ado­les­cence — to tight/loose parenting where we fail to set bound­aries be­cause it’s all too hard.

Yet those lanky, il­log­i­cal chil­dren that seem to have re­treated out of our lives and into their bed­rooms need us des­per­ately. They re­quire bound­aries and dis­ci­pline.

Where once we he­li­coptered, now we need to be their para­chutes.

They’re look­ing out­wards, away from us, about to jump into peers and par­ties and re­la­tion­ships, yet they still need those trans­par­ent safety strings to steer and soften the fall.

In­stead the di­a­logue is about pro­duc­tiv­ity, child­care, re­bates. We’ve be­come a na­tion fo­cused on en­abling par­ents to work, not en­abling them to par­ent. We patch­work through their younger years with child­care, grand­par­ents and af­ter-school care but, come ado­les­cence, we desert them when they’re most sus­cep­ti­ble. And we won­der why their gen­er­a­tion is riven with sui­cide, anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and self-harm.

I’m not a per­fect par­ent but I want to feel part of a tribe — that there’s oth­ers set­ting cur­fews on their de­vices and call­ing to see if there’s su­per­vi­sion at par­ties. I want to be able to tell you that I’m wor­ried about your child just as I’d hope you’d tell me if you were wor­ried about mine. I want my daugh­ter to stop telling me that “no one else’s par­ents care”.

“So what’s my pun­ish­ment?” she asked, af­ter I’d rum­bled her for ly­ing. There isn’t one, I told her. Be­cause in the end she told the truth and in the quiet chat af­ter we both learned so much.

Days later I asked if she’d mind if I wrote about her de­ceit. “Yeah, sure,” she said, “but only if you drive me to the bus in­stead of mak­ing me walk.” Ah, ever the teenager.

Those lanky,

il­log­i­cal chil­dren that have re­treated

into their bed­rooms need us des­per­ately

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