How to get teenagers to listen

By Rachel Fletcher, May 9, 2008
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Suzanne Franks is the author of a new book of advice for parents of teenage children.

If someone has told you lately that you are an oppressive taskmaster with no understanding of the world and who regularly ruins lives, the chances are that you have teenage children.

Clinical psychologist Tony Wolf and Suzanne Franks, writer and mother of two teenage children, have got together to advise on how to parent the modern adolescent. Their book, Get Out of My Life... But First Take Me and Alex Into Town, attempts to explain why teenagers behave the way they do using real-life case studies, and covering issues such as single parents, suicide, drugs and teenage sex.

Franks says: “We live in a less deferential society. If you talk to people of my generation, the things we would not dare say to our parents are now commonplace.”

According to Franks, the teenage stage lasts longer than it used to. “Adolescence starts earlier than it did, with heavy marketing of clothes and music to girls of nine and 10. And it goes on for longer — people are older now before they settle down.”

It helps to understand the psychology of adolescence. The book explains the conflict between the “baby self”, which wants to cling to the nurturing and dependence familiar from childhood, and the developing urge for independence. The baby self, and the childish behaviour that goes with it, says Franks, is responsible for most of the day-to-day rows parents have with their teenagers.

Modern technology has made parenting teenagers more complicated, she notes. “Even at home, the world is continually in contact with your teenager,” she say. “Mobile phones and computers allow them to socialise online.” To avoid unwelcome distractions, Franks suggests keeping the computer in a communal area, or imposing a regular study period that is strictly imposed, even if there is no homework to do.

Much of the secret of dealing with adolescents is learning to pick your battles. “Sometimes, you must have a mental image of talking to a toddler, perhaps when they’re calling you names. See it as the same as a toddler tantrum, instead of getting into a subsidiary fight about the name-calling. Not prolonging the argument is really important.” But fight for the big things. “Curfews, being safe, not getting into cars with drunk drivers — that’s worth putting all your guns into battle for.”

At the end of it, parents should resign themselves to the fact that at times their children will drive them mad. “The message is to hang in there,” says Franks.

“If you had a good relationship before and you set parameters, they will come back to you. If you can withdraw and not get so enmeshed in it, it will come to an end.”

Get Out of My Life... But First Take Me and Alex Into Town is published by Profile Books at £8.99

    Last updated: 2:21pm, May 13 2008