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My Teen Doesn't Respect Me!

by Beverley Paine, Aut 2012

One of the mums on my Homeschool Australia support group commented that she had expected home educating her son would bring them closer together but now that his is thirteen years old he seems to have lost all respect for her. This is immensely stressful for any parent to experience, but as home educators we generally feel insecure and constantly doubt and worry that we're doing the right thing by our children.

When talking about teenagers I find it helpful to know specifically how old the young person is because it makes such a huge difference. For us, every year is pretty much the same as the last, but for children, every year is huge - there is so much growth and development, particularly in understanding and ability. It takes years before children can fully grasp the concept of years and age. To most children thirty is old! A year in the life of a child takes, well it takes a year. A year in our life, by comparison, feels like a few weeks, a couple of months at best, has passed!

Add this complex mix of growth, understanding and development a cocktail of rampaging hormones and sudden unpredictable bursts of growth once adolescence hits and well... It is a tricky time for parents and a confusing time for teens.

As a thirteen year old I suddenly realised what 'responsibility' meant and hated the thought of growing up. I clung to my dolls and my pretend games and stories. At fourteen I was dressing like a grown up and looked like one too - much to my parents' dismay! When my daughter was seventeen she wanted to leave home but later confided that she was glad that she hadn't and waited until she was nineteen: two years made a huge difference in her life. We often forget that children and young people experience time differently to us and that what they pack into one year is tremendous.

My friend said that her son had become "sullen and lazy and apathetic, but then joyous, helpful and thoughtful", with no reason for his sudden moodiness or mood swings. To top it off he'd begun to fight with his siblings! That sounded very familiar to me, both remembering my own childhood and that of my children.

Without knowing more, what she describes sounds a lot like the influence of hormones. Remember when hormones took control of your life at around about that age? If you can't, ask your mother! Luckily I could remember and that made me a little bit more sensitive when my children hit their teens.

Moodiness and sudden mood changes are fairly typical reactions to hormonal changes. Because hormones are chemicals, anything we ingest or encounter can trigger reactions. Although the onset of this is acute in adolescence it can occur at any age, especially for sensitive people.

We are much more forgiving of toddlers being 'reactive'. We readily but reluctantly accept that over-stimulation leads to over-tiredness which leads to crankiness which leads to full-blown tantrums. We 'tune in' and become sensitive to their needs and learn to act to meet those needs quickly. With teens we've become accustomed to our children meeting a lot of their own needs and this is one reason why puberty and adolescence can catch us unawares!

My first priority would be to start looking for and using anything that helps, as much as possible, to balance those hormonal swings.

Physical exercise is a must. That's easy for most boys, but at the very least a daily walk will help: if you have to go with him to help motivate him that's a small price to pay. Typically in the thirteenth and fourteenth years a lot of boys need to do 'manly' work: this ties in with their growing sense of responsibility and work ethic. Mowing the lawn doesn't cut it though - they need to physically use their muscles and like to 'show off' doing so! Can you think of any building jobs? Do you need or could you use a potting bench, any DIY gardening or landscaping jobs that need attention, trenches dug, etc? Working on cars is also physically and intellectually demanding. An old wreck to pull apart could do wonders if he's mechanically minded. Don't worry about him putting it back together or what he is learning. It primary purpose is to meet his physical needs.

My lads were very much into LEGO and computers, but at this age really needed to use their muscles and wanted to 'show off' to their mum just how 'manly' they were: they suddenly got very interested in all kinds of landscaping and building jobs, chopping word, carrying heavy things, as well as doing all sorts of 'fixing' jobs around the house! Luckily their dad is a DIY, but if you don't have that luxury, look around in the community. Is there a Community Men's Shed he could help out at? Resources such as the Readers' Digest DIY manuals or 'how to' articles on the internet can supply instructions on most things. Forums are great for finding answers: our youngest son taught himself all manner of things by asking questions on forums.

I personally use zinc supplements and find they help to stabilize mood swings, along with fish oil capsules. Check to make sure there is enough zinc in your teen's daily diet (food sources are always better than supplements).

And don't forget sleep: teens need a lot more sleep than they think they do. Most won't go to bed at 10pm - a sensible time - and if they do, access to the internet will keep them awake anyway. Luckily, as home educators, we have the luxury of letting them sleep in. Twelve hours of sleep a night is not uncommon for teens not restricted by school hours. And it isn't unhealthy, the opposite in fact. Sleeping in isn't an excuse to avoid personal and family chores though! Teens, like children, need boundaries within which they feel secure and confident and which help them develop and protect their emerging identities and self-esteem.

Young people this age need privacy, much more than they've wanted or asked for before. You may need to protect this fiercely to maintain his respect and to show your support for his personal development. Protecting our teens from their younger siblings isn't always easy but it is important. Again, I remember what it was like to have a younger (pesky) brother when I was that age. I had moved on into another world he didn't understand and he badgered me constantly and sometimes cruelly. Mum was on his side. As a result I grew away from both of them. Everyone has the right to work or play undisturbed if they want or need to. We must guard against our tendency to use our older children as child-minders for our younger children when we are busy and don't want to attend to the needs of the younger ones. It's too easy to fall into the habit of doing that and sets the children against each other, particularly as they age.

Teens do a lot of thinking. They need time to do this thinking, and this usually means on their own. We call it day dreaming, but it is mostly them processing all the conflicting thoughts and experiences that bombard them every day. They are becoming 'aware' of the world and they are beginning to place themselves as an entity within it. They are finalising the creation of the identity that started in their infancy... This is demanding and hard work. They suddenly find themselves at odds with the values of those around them. I like to think of this is the second phase of separation anxiety we came to terms with during their toddler years. Teens often feel guilty and confused that they don't always agree with their parents but they know that they are right - and they are: each generation carves its own place and space in history. They don't want to be contrary, but they can't help it.

We're older, wiser and we've lived through this stage. Our memories help us have compassion for our teenage children. They need guidance and they need mentors and they need people to help them find resources and point out pathways that might be useful to them.

Thirteen and fourteen are fantastic awesome ages! We can help our children enjoy them, but it isn't always going to be easy.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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Welcome to the World of Home Education
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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