2 Dec 2011

Coming to terms with parenting teens

Tomorrow is my eldest son's 14th birthday. It already seems like he has been a teenager forever. He now stands a head taller than me and his voice is so deep I am constantly wondering who on earth is the strange man talking downstairs?
These physical changes have taken place over the past year and I, as his mother who has had 13 years of having two little boys, am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that I have one big boy (12) and one young man on my hands.
The job is made more complicated by their Asperger Syndrome. Which aspects of their behaviour are because they have AS and which is just because they are adolescent? It can be hard to tell.
It is also hard to change your parenting behaviour. While it is still necessary to give them firm boundaries as well as love, the position of the boundaries, by necessity, changes.
What is difficult is knowing which boundaries to change and where to move them to. Bedtimes have become more lax. Sometimes he will go for a shower unasked, sometimes he needs to be reminded to wash his hair because it needs it - after all he's getting used to having a new body and hormones as well. I suspect there are plenty of teens this applies to.
Communication is also something that is changing, in that he doesn't particularly want to, at least with us. He's often on Facebook chatting with his school-friends and I sometimes hear his deep voice talking on his mobile late in the evening.
The other week he had some friends over for a sleep-over before we took them paint-balling the next morning. They disappeared into the conservatory where they were sleeping. "Don't you want to watch TV?" I asked. "No, we're going to talk," he replied. When I remarked that he never talked to me, all the boys collapsed into what can only be described as Smash Alien-type laughter.
I know what they were talking about: girls - another area for worry. He goes to an all-boys school but they get together with girls from a nearby girls' school for theatrical productions. My son likes girls very much and they like him back - since he was six up until he went to the boys' school, he always received one or even two Valentine's Cards every year from smitten primary schoolgirls, much to my younger son's disgust.
I have decided the best thing to do about girls is...nothing. Unless he asks. I will just keep my eyes and ears open although as he tends to keep things to himself, this is a challenge.
I am working my way through Thomas Phelan's "Surviving Your Adolescents" and have found that I am making lots of mistakes - such as 'the insightful comment' hoping to instill my wisdom into him, usually when he's stuck in the car with me. This is apparently a no-no. Oops.
I'm also getting some things right as well, which is a relief not to be totally useless. I remember being a teenager and, I can promise you, I was a lot worse than he was and I turned out alright, I think.
I bought him a book, "The Teenage Guy's Survival Guide: The Real Deal on Girls, Growing Up and Other Guy Stuff". "I got this for you," I said, casually leaving it on the table. "You might like it, have a look if you want". I left it at that. It's now on or next to his bed, so it's apparently a hit.
Other boundaries haven't changed, for example, I try to make sure we eat together at the table as often as possible. We had a little talk the other day about how I was going to try to treat him in a more grown up way, although it was hard for me to adjust. Then I said that he would also need to take more responsibility for things within the family. He looked at me sharply. "I'm not that old," he said. I smiled to myself. It's a long journey, this growing up stuff.