Reassessing relationships

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Having a teenager can be like going through those "terrible 2s" and the tantrums again, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
Last week, I wrote about the move from the organisation of childhood, through the turmoil of adolescence to the reorganisation of adulthood. Amid all the other stresses in our lives, it can be very tempting to feel that we can’t be bothered with the hassle.

They question our values, test the boundaries, mock our attitudes and even rebel outright.

They can hate everything about their life: "Why doesn’t Dad get a decent car?" "The only phone worth having’s an iPhone. Why can’t I have one?" "Why does Mum have to be on the Board of Trustees and down at school every second minute?"

It’s a time when we need to find ways to renew those first feelings of love and excitement that we had the day our monstrous six-footer was born, to reassess our role as parents and to assess the new and changing needs of our teen.

Psychoanalyst Anna Freud writes that it’s normal for a teen "to fight his impulses and to accept them; to love his parents and to hate them; to be deeply ashamed to acknowledge his mother before others and, unexpectedly, to desire heart-to-heart talks with her".

Teenagers will be "more idealistic, artistic, generous and unselfish than ever again, but also the opposite: self-centred, egoistic, calculating".

Even knowing this and what to expect doesn’t make maintaining our sanity a breeze. It’s like going through those "terrible 2s" and the tantrums again. The difference is that when they ask "Why?" they mean it and look out if we can’t come up with an answer that suits. "Because I said so" can lead to anything from a long, exhausting debate to an explosion of volcanic proportions.

However, our teens still need us just as much now as they did when they were toddlers. While we might feel as if we have to teach them all over again how to clean their teeth and how to fold their clothes and put them away, it’s not really that.

What we’re faced with is trying to balance the setting of boundaries and ensuring their safety with the need to let them go and allow them to grow their independence and their confidence to face the world on their own. We have to acknowledge that we can’t shield them forever and have to let them test new waters and practise fending for themselves.

They’ll push against existing rules and roles. We did it and we adapted those rules and roles to suit our generation. Our youngsters are doing the same.

It’s our role to stand firm against the pushing and shoving so that the rules and roles that eventually develop are functional and in their best interests and those of society as a whole.


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