A survival guide for getting your kids through the teenage years

The teenage years bring their fair share of expensive surprises and unique parenting challenges.
The teenage years bring their fair share of expensive surprises and unique parenting challenges. Photo: Getty

When I had three young kids, I thought that parenting was pretty hard. Now that two of those kids are well into their teenage kids, I realise that I was completely wrong.

In hindsight, parenting young kids isn't that hard. It is parenting teens that is really challenging.

Sure, it is physically taxing to be running around after a toddler and a new baby. Sure, it is exhausting to be making three meals a day for each child, laying out their clothes in the morning and bathing them at night.

But the mental exertion required to keep teens happy and healthy is far, far greater. Teenagers are way more complex and nuanced than their younger selves. Their lives are way more complicated, and the array of potential problems they face is so much wider than the grazed knees and snotty noses of the average small child.

All kids can suffer broken bones and infectious illnesses. Teenagers, however, have a whole range of specific health issues: menstrual pain, sports injuries, acne, orthodontic problems, just to name a few.

There are lifestyle choices and social conditions that can impact on a teenager's emotional and physical health – experimentation with alcohol and drugs, for example, or exposure to bullying at school or online. Kids need education about sexual health, and sexually active teens need access to contraception.

And then there are the mental health problems to which teens are particularly vulnerable: depression and anxiety, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, self-harm, and addictive behaviours.

Throw in a bit of independence, and rides in cars with newly licensed drivers, and there can be a lot to worry about.

But of course, it's not all doom and gloom. Most teenagers have a relatively smooth path to adulthood, with just the occasional bump along the way. And there are things parents can do to ease the way.

  • Communicate with your kids. It is more important in the teenage years than in any other life stage to keep the channels of communication open. My teens can be grunty and monosyllabic for days, and then suddenly want to talk and talk. And if they want to talk, I will listen, even if it's at eleven pm when I am desperate for sleep. Just being heard can do wonders for a teen's esteem and mental health.
  • Have a good, friendly, reliable GP, someone who can keep tabs on your teen's medical history and offer advice.
  • Seek out support from mental health care professionals. School counsellors are a great first step, as they know the world in which your child operates. Your GP will be able to refer you to an external psychologist if necessary.
  • Be aware of what is going on in your child's environment. Ask questions. Communicate with your kids' teaches. Don't assume all is well just because you haven't heard otherwise.
  • Have comprehensive health insurance for your family, and check that your teens are adequately covered by your policy. Choose a plan that will cover you for those extras that teens can accrue that could place a huge burden on your finances – things like physio for sports injuries, orthodontics, eye care, and psychology services.
  • Become familiar with social media. You won't be able to advise your teen about the perils of the online world if you don't understand the difference between Snapchat and Facebook.
  • Stock your home with plenty of nutritious snacks. It's astonishing how teens' moods can plummet when they are hungry.
  • Enrol your learner driver in a Safe Driving course. Arm them with all the tools they need to be safe on the roads.

Finally, be alert, but not alarmed. The teenage years can be exhilarating. It is incredibly exciting to watch your children morph into their adult selves.

And despite the perils of the teenage years, there is one great comfort. Those days of lice treatments and fine tooth combs are well into your past.

This article brought to you by iSelect.com.au