It’s time to be ‘adultish’

It's often a lose-lose situation with teenagers, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

They can accuse their parents of being old-fashioned fuddy-duddies and yet that's exactly what young people really want their parents to be, according to British child psychiatrist Richard Williams.

He said that a good number of years ago now, when he first started working with adolescents, he wore jeans to work. The staff accepted this but the teenagers told him he should have been in a suit and tie.

A year or so ago, three-quarter-length pants would have set their eyes rolling and today, perhaps, a T-shirt and skinny jeans.

To a certain extent, adults need to be stuffy and old and adolescents need to be revolting and different. At a time in their lives when they're trying to establish their own separate identities they don't want adults muscling in on their image.

We see it in the music world. At a time when a procession of ageing pop stars are attempting to supplement their pensions, there's been a counter-surge of particularly young boy and girl performers. It seems we adults can keep our ancient rockers.

The same goes for language. Teenagers are turned off by adults talking to them in what's considered teen-talk. It's their talk and coming from an adult it's seen as patronising. Just as adults are expected to dress like adults, so they're expected to speak like adults.

I've had a youngster describe how her mother tried hard to be a teenager and, when her friends came visiting, tried to ‘‘hang out'' with them.

‘‘My friends pretend she's one of us, then they laugh at her behind her back. I don't invite them round any more.''

And yet we can be in trouble if we're not trendy enough. While they don't want us too up-to-date they also don't want the embarrassment of us being too out of style.

Young teenagers in particular can feel uncomfortable when they see their parents step out of their one ‘‘correct'' role, perhaps letting their hair down at a party, telling silly jokes or being too loud. Anything that hints of immaturity can make a teenager cringe.

Dr Williams says that the generation gap appears much bigger for children than for adults. An adult might think: ‘‘I'm 44 but I feel like 27''; whereas the teenager will think: ‘‘He's 44, going on 60''.

So what to do? Be a parent, not one of the gang. Both your children and their friends will appreciate that. And be yourself but sensitive to the sensitivity of your youngsters when they're around. Have fun with them and their friends, but know when enough is enough.

Just as children are childish, so adults should be ‘‘adultish''.


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