Sage advice for parenting teens

Gillian McAinsh

WHATEVER, Mom! Which mother – or father, come to think of it – of a teenager has not been faced with eye-rolling and the sulks, along with “whatever”.

If you haven’t, you are a rare and fortunate parent and you don’t need to rush out and buy Dr Linda Friedland’s new book, Whatever, Mom!

For most of us though, the good doctor from the Cape is a breath of fresh air and a credible source of information as she herself has had five children over a stretch of 25 years, including a set of twins.

Over her quarter century as a parent, she has seen teen problems change.

“I have an 11-year gap between my eldest, now 25, and the youngest, who is 14, so I suppose I have only been ‘parenting’ teens for 13 years (not 25) but the world is indeed a different place from 10 to15 years ago,” she said.

“My eldest son did not grow up with a PC; he didn’t have an iPod at that age nor did he do his schoolwork on an iPad with all the textbooks on the iPad (in electronic form); there was no Facebook either. So I think the connectivity, communications and internet issues were not there.

“And my eldest is part of the Y generation, while the youngest is classed as Z generation, which are even more hi-tech than the Y gen.”

However, she said, morals and values had not – or should not have – changed.

“Universally teens are ‘testy’ and challenging in any era. This goes with the territory of the brain and body and hormonal changes.”

She enjoys her teenage children and found them not as demanding physically as having babies and toddlers.

“I personally have enjoyed observing the emergence of a child into an adolescent with an opinion, albeit different from my own.

“The relationship with a teen is constantly changing as he or she develops and, although at times it is challenging, there is something wondrous about the transition into adulthood.

“Although far more demanding emotionally than caring for babies, it is not as physically taxing.”

Friedland mentions both Tiger Mother and Helicopter parenting styles in her book, and has given thought as to whether there is a style of African parenting based on “ubuntu”.

She uses a proverb to introduce Whatever Mom!: “It takes a village to raise a child”.

“The issue of the community feeling a sense of responsibility is such a wonderful part of African parenting, particularly the role of grandparents and aunts and uncles feeling responsible.

“African parenting is in stark contrast to the western nuclear family, which lives apart and isolated from the rest of the extended family.”

She did not give her parents grief as a teenager: “I didn’t! I was such a ‘goody two shoes’ although I had such a naughty younger brother who gave them heaps of grief.

“But although I wasn’t rebellious or naughty, I did have an alternate streak and challenged their value system somewhat. I became a bit of a hippy, vegetarian and got involved in anti-apartheid politics.

“The problem with many teens today is that they are so focused on themselves and their own pleasures and needs – the narcissistic ME generation – that the domain of youth and teens to find meaning and strive to make the world a better place is not central anymore.”

Certainly, whether or not teenagers themselves are changing, “debates about how to parent are as old as parenting itself”.

“If parents could maintain a sense of humour, practice deep breathing, demonstrate consistency in affection and also boundaries but be flexible too – but, most importantly, trust that it is a phase, an emergence of an adult – it would not be half as daunting as people experience. Adolescence does not last forever.”

  • Whatever, Mom! Body Piercings and Other Power Struggles by Dr Linda Friedland is published by Tafelberg and retails at R195.

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