Talking to teenagers
Because when that sweet, bright-eyed ball of cuteness you used to snuggle in your arms transforms into a hormonal person with their own opinions and hang-ups, it's useful to have a few pointers to hand...
Why don't they ever speak?
They do. To each other. They are more likely to talk to their friends and even their friends' parents. You're the authority figure, hence the grunts, mumbles and sneers. For a peek behind the facade, wait until they want something. Money, for example. They will soon produce whole sentences and everything.
Why don't they listen to my advice?
They do. They just can't be seen to be doing what you told them to. That's why they'll come to you with some pearl of wisdom imparted by a friend, or a teacher, or a relative. And it's something you tried to tell them five hundred times, only to be dismissed. Fight the urge to point this out and just be glad they're doing the right thing.
How honest should I be?
As honest as you possibly can. You've made mistakes, you've behaved irresponsibly, you've staggered home drunk and thrown up in the kitchen sink. What's more, they'll have witnessed some of this, so it's no use pretending to be whiter than white.
Admit your mistakes, but point out that they had consequences, and you tried to learn from them. Because there's nothing teenagers hate more than a hypocritical adult. All of which leads us onto...
How do I talk about sex?
Unless you've got some kind of storybook relationship with your kids then talking about sex is going to be difficult. Awkward. Embarrassing. That's pretty much how it should be but don't let that stop you.
Unless you're ready to be a granddad it is vital that you stress the importance of safe sex. Try to wait for chances that arise from TV programmes, news stories and jokes. Don't treat it as some solemn, sacred imparting of wisdom because they certainly won't.
You may, heaven forbid, have taken some drugs yourself once upon a time and look at you now, a responsible father. The point being, if you tell them that all drugs are instantly lethal they will know that you're talking nonsense and ignore you.
If you admit the appeal, but also point out the dangers, then there's a chance they might listen to you and if they are tempted to experiment, they'll at least do it safely.
Why do they hate me?
Try not to take it personally. It is difficult when your child is screaming "God, I wish you weren't my dad!" But remember, they said that yesterday as well, and ten minutes later all was well again. You just happen to be the nearest adult they dare speak to like that. It's all too easy to slip into a pattern of provocation and reaction, so that every conversation becomes a slanging match.
Count to ten, and remember how your dad used to be an idiot, and an embarrassment. And then, suddenly, when you were about 20, he became really wise and a source of advice and, hey, even some of the music he liked wasn't bad. That's going to happen to you one day.
Why do they ask for such unreasonable things?
You mean like: "It's just me and 20 friends and we won't trash the place, why can't we hold the gig in the kitchen?". Because they want you to say no. They'll kick, scream and shout but actually they want boundaries. They just don't want the boring job of putting them up. That's your job, Dad.
Sounds obvious but it's all too easy, just as they assume you're an old fart, for you to assume your teenager is hopelessly naive. So listen. You might be pleasantly surprised.
"And in my day" itis
Of course you think it was better then. You were 15. They don't want to know it. And exams haven't got easier (no matter what you really think).
Don't try getting down with the kids
Just using the phrase down with the kids gives away our geriatric status. Don't try talking in teen speak. Please.
Steve Cochrane is a freelance journalist and scriptwriter who is married with three children, varying in age from 17 to eight. As well as writing he has worked as a full time househusband, unofficial family childminder and has spent many years trying to come up with a better word for househusband.
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