Does it have to be quite so hard?

19th November 2004 at 00:00
My boys'll make me laugh, or babytalk the cat, and that reminds me that I must love these cuckoos, as we jostle for space. They are growing ever bigger while I shrink into my menopausal bones. And as they push the boundaries faster than I can establish them, I have to admit that they are growing, not out of control (because they are lovely lads) but out of my control. The hardest thing now is watching them blunder into mistakes, without scooping them back under my protective wing.

When they were teeny, there were books, health visitors, relatives and friends all offering (conflicting) advice. The saving grace was that they had grown from one stage into another before I had quite sorted the first - and they were little enough to pack off to bed or bribe.

Their primary years were the eye of the tornado - brief years of innocence and enthusiasm before the teenage years smacked in. Now friends can do little but pour more wine. The health visitor keeps well away. They don't write many books on teenagers (will whoever has my copy of Get out of my life but take me into town first please give it back) and bribery doesn't work because they now have more ready cash than I do.

What I and most other parents need is good advice. It is too easy to be too prescriptive, too heavy-handed. It is too easy to give in because every other mum has (oh no she hasn't, but that we never know until too late).

It's too easy to react to their naked aggression. It's too easy to expect too much, or not enough. It's hard to mediate without being taught those skills, hard to step down and apologise unless someone can gently point out we are wrong. It's easy to forget how vulnerable we were at that age, and how vulnerable they are now.

I know that many parents are facing far worse problems than I ever will, and feel powerless and defensive when trying to control their out-of-control teenagers. Yet there are tried and tested ways of defusing situations. Often parents just need to learn how to negotiate, to recognise when to lay down firm boundaries and how to acknowledge and praise good behaviour when it happens.

But they can't learn it unless someone teaches it. So it would be a good idea if someone would - especially for those parents who are struggling. If it helped keep a few kids out of trouble, if it meant that they did better at school, and got on better at home, then it has to be money well spent.

The cocky exterior of many teenagers hides a very scared interior - and they actually need and want more assured parenting.

Most parents are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances - is it so hard to offer a helping hand?

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