Struggling to communicate with a troublesome teen? As Relate launches a free online support service for parents and families,
counsellors tell Lisa Salmon that help is at hand.
All stages of parenting have their ups and downs, but trying to handle a wayward teenager can be one of the toughest battles.
Research by relationship support organisation Relate shows that 15% of parents feel their teenagers’ behaviour is sometimes, often or always ‘out of control’ and around one in nine (11%) aren’t confident dealing with their teens in difficult situations.
“Lots of teens test parents’ boundaries, and when things get tough it can lead to real problems for families,” says Ruth Sutherland, Relate’s chief executive, pictured below.
“Every teenager is different, but problems can include getting into trouble at school, misusing alcohol or drugs, depression or self-harm.
“It can be really hard to address these issues, but if a parent suspects all is not well then getting help early is crucial to try and prevent problems getting worse.”
Relate has launched a free online service (www.relateforparents.org.uk) for parents who are worried about their teens. “Healthy relationships are crucial to the wellbeing of both individuals, and society as a whole,” says Sutherland.
“That’s why we want to help as many parents as possible understand their teenagers better, in order to build and maintain strong relationships, reducing strain on the whole family.”
The Relate poll also found almost one in five parents (19%) weren’t confident they knew what was going on in their teen’s life, and a third felt they had ‘not quite enough’ or ‘nowhere near enough’ time to spend with them.
When asked what they thought was the biggest cause of problems for teenagers, a third blamed bad parenting and 20% said it was teens falling in with the wrong group of friends. However, when asked the same questions about their own child, only 2% blamed bad parenting, with 33% saying it was down to being in the wrong crowd.
Just 9% cited drugs and alcohol as the biggest problem, and a further 9% blamed a lack of understanding in society about teenagers and their needs.
Chris Sherwood, Relate’s director of policy and external affairs, points out that, as well as parents trying to remember what they felt like as teenagers, it’s important to think about what it’s like to grow up today, especially with all the new technology. While the internet brings opportunities, it also means new threats and concerns with issues like cyberbullying.
“It’s important that parents try to understand their teenager’s worries, because those worries are going to be different from their own experience,” he says.
“Understand what’s going on in their lives, and remember that sometimes it’s not the teenager at fault - there are two parts to the relationship, the parent and the teen, and both can change their relationship by behaving differently.”
It’s critical for parents to make an effort to talk to their teenager, and plan quality time together, Sherwood stresses.
“It’s not just about teenagers not communicating with their parents, it’s also about how parents communicate with teenagers.”
The rise of social media has changed the way people communicate, he adds, with children often texting parents their wants and needs, rather than actually talking to them.
“In some ways we’re more connected, but one of the things we’re encouraging is for families to communicate face-to-face and not just rely on social media and text messages.”
It’s important that parents know there’s support available, where they can share their worries. “It can feel like a very lonely experience when you have a teenager and your relationship is difficult,” says Sherwood. “But help and support is available both for the parent and the teenager.”
Family members, like grandparents, uncles and aunts, can be a great source of support and advice, as can schools, as well as services like Relate - which isn’t just about couples and adults but is for young people and families as well.
Counsellors offer impartial support, helping people understand what’s going on, what’s going well and not so well, and find strategies to manage the situation - including keeping cool instead of just reacting to problems.
“It’s critical for families to seek support early, and not just wait until a problem becomes a crisis,” says Sherwood. “Your teenager’s behaviour might be frustrating, but they’re facing a lot of challenges and you’re still the adult in the relationship.
“Give them space when they need it, stay calm and remember that help is available.”