Surviving your teenager

By Susan A Jennings
True North Perspective

Susan A Jennings is a coach, facilitator and writer and the author of Save some for Me. For more information email or visit

"Hire a teenager while they know everything!" Anyone who has had any connection with a teenager will understand the irony in that statement. The teenage years are a challenge for both teenager and parents. They do truly believe they know everything. They are no longer children and hardly adults with a perception that all parents are old fashioned. How could parents possibly understand what the future holds for the new generation? Of course the fact that every generation of teenagers feels the same way escapes the current generation.

Teenagers are like changelings as their bodies change, emotions get wild, and once normal behaviour becomes erratic, risks are taken, opinions are voiced and it is cool to rebel against anything and everything. One day an adult only to revert to being a child the next. Then, surprise, you find you are enjoying an interesting adult conversation with your teenager. Your child unfolds with a whole new perspective on the life. As a parent you can delight in the rewards as your child blossoms towards adulthood.

I don’t think any parent is prepared for teenagers, I certainly wasn’t. I had this notion that one day, like magic, my children would be adults. I hadn’t bargained for what came between childhood and adulthood.

I was a single parent of five children and they all journeyed through their teenage years in their own unique way. My middle son hardly rebelled at all. Focused on his education his teenage years were nothing more than a blip, a mother’s dream. The dream was shattered by my daughter’s rebellion. The other three boys had their moments but other than a few little incidents like trying to make fireworks in the basement, which was almost blew the house off it’s foundations or adding gin to slushies, there were few disasters, at least that I was aware of, whether that was a good thing I am not entirely sure.

I prided myself on being an ‘all knowing’ mother. I supported their choices and respected their decisions, most of the time. Choose your battles carefully; nagging and constantly criticising will not win the war. Is it really going to make a difference if a jacket is not put away? However if the jacket is ripped and looks as though it’s been in a fight it does make a difference and you want answers. Coming home five minuets past curfew is annoying two hours is worrying and needs to be addressed, six is time to call the police. Choosing your battles or turning a blind eye over the small stuff makes the big stuff easier to handle.

My precious little daughter, a princess in frilly pink dresses and satin ribbons, had a strong personality and was not easily swayed by her peers. I was convinced that she would never rebel. Oh boy was I in for a shock! At the tender age of 14 she mutated from a pink and frilly princess to a black and trampy punk rocker, fishnet stockings and skirts no bigger than a belt. She picked up a surly attitude along with surly and suspect friends. I felt helpless as well as the full impact of being a single parent. An instruction book would have been nice. I had nothing more than my instincts and common sense and no way of knowing if I was doing the right thing. Rules were made for breaking was my daughter’s mantra. We had the most horrendous screaming arguments which sent the boys running for cover. The eleven o’clock curfew was stretched to two in the morning more time than I can count. She even moved out of the house a couple of times. I reluctantly gave her my blessing terrified for her safety as she moved into a dump on the seedy side of town. I wanted her to know she could always come home and when the ceiling fell on top she called home in tears, "Please bring her home." Underneath the arguments and power struggles there was unconditional love and that alone was the glue that kept us together and helped us journey through those teenage years. She continued to hover on the fringe of a very bad crowd but her strong personality worked for her and kept her away from street drugs and breaking the law.

I was told on several occasions to use ‘tough love’ if she didn’t abide by the rules throw her out. I had trouble with this logic. Let’s just think about this — I have a troubled teenager already having difficulty adjusting to life so I should throw her on the street, abandon her, deprive her of my love and this would accomplish ... what?

My daughter is now an adult with her own teenage daughter and we often talk about those troubled years. I quote "Mom, if you had not set the boundaries and curfews I would have gone wild and stayed out all night. Because of the curfews I always made it home, albeit several hours late. I was so scared when the ceiling caved in but I knew you were there for me and I came home."

Today we are best friends she is my soul mate and those hard teenage years have made us both stronger. Our special relationship didn’t come easy and there were days when I thought I wouldn’t survive. We had to work hard to achieve a mother daughter bond but that bond will never separate.

How do you survive your teenager? Unconditional love, gut instinct, boundaries and limits, support and respect, and choose your battles carefully. Sometimes as parents we forget we know our children better than anyone. Gut instinct is the key, believe it, trust it, listen to it, you are the expert where your children are concerned. Take time to listen and enjoy a conversation with your teenager you may find out they really do know everything—well almost everything.

24 April 2009 — Return to cover.