Posted: 02 December 2016

Helping parents of teenagers

As we launch our Troubled Teens report, Lisa Scivetti - our Service Manager for the Family Intervention Team in the East - tells us why helping the whole family is so important.

Who we help

Our Family Intervention Team works in Mid, South and West Essex to provide early support to whole families and run parenting classes. We help parents that are struggling to know how to manage their teenager’s behaviour, where there has been a break-down in communication or things have become difficult at home.

For example, a school might call us where a parent is struggling to make sure their teenager is going to school every day, or can’t get them to come home at night at a safe time. Or a GP might call us where a parent has spoken about worries over teenage behaviour, such as an unhealthy relationship or that they are accessing dangerous content online. At other times a parent will ask for our help themselves.

Teenage behaviour has many influences

When these situations occur it isn’t the parents’ fault or that they are parenting in the ‘wrong way’. Usually the parents need, and really appreciate, help from qualified professionals to unpick why a teenager is behaving in a certain way and provide suggestions of new strategies to help them manage and improve the situation. This will involve looking at the wider family dynamics and all the influences that are contributing to the teenager’s behaviour.

Parents have often had no problem when their child is young, but have struggled to adapt these parenting strategies later on when the child reaches adolescence and presents challenging changes in behaviour. There isn’t much advice out there for parents on this different stage of child development. Unfortunately the only families who tend to get help across the country are those who have reached some sort of crisis.

Less than fifty years ago, people would often discipline their children through smacking or violence. Society has moved on since then and we now understand that this is not only ineffective, but wrong. Many of the challenges parents face now are a result of removing a behavioural management technique and not replacing it with structured advice on what to do in place of smacking. This has left parents - many parents - feeling disempowered. Lots of parents need help identifying how to set boundaries in a positive and loving way to do the best for their children. 

Teenagers need ‘as much’ parenting as younger children

A trend we have noticed is that many parents relax once their children start secondary school. It might seem natural for parents to think that they don’t need to be there as much for their children anymore, or supervise their whereabouts as much. The truth is actually that the same amount of parenting is needed, but the style of parenting needs to change. Some teenagers even get separation anxiety from their parents at this stage, if parents withdraw too much support.  

Lots of parents need help identifying how to set boundaries in a positive and loving way

Parenting a teenager is just as demanding as parenting a younger child with all the physiological changes and challenges they go through. During this period, their brain develops as rapidly as when they were a toddler and they find themselves in new and tricky social situations.   

As the Troubled Teens research highlights, emotional support from parents is often lacking for teenagers. As a society, we aren’t brilliant at understanding the psychology of our teens. Children can start being seen as ‘stroppy teenagers’ receiving less help at a time when they actually need more.

When we work with parents we discuss the idea that it’s important to respect any problems your teenager is going through. Even if their problems seem insignificant to you, understanding when something feels like a big deal to them is key, as emotional changes are part and parcel of the teenage experience.  

More help should be available for parents of teenagers

Our 6-12 week programmes are really successful. We do group work in community centres and schools and individual tailored support in the home depending on the needs of each family. We also run several group work programmes including ones specifically aimed at supporting parents with their teens.

We aim to prevent problems escalating to the point that the teenager or family needs support from a statutory service like social care. By helping families early, we prevent much bigger problems down the line and make sure they have the right support in place.  

The impact our team has for families is really quite profound. I definitely believe that there should be more help out there for parents of teenagers and that the issue should have more focus, discussion and debate.

How we helped Paula and Katie

Paula had never needed any support with her daughter Katie when she was younger. But once Katie hit the teenage years, things suddenly went into turmoil.

Katie started smoking and staying out very late at night. When Paula tried to address things with Katie, they ended up screaming at each other and there was a total break-down in their relationship and communication.

Paula was so frustrated that she googled ‘parenting support’ and found us. She walked into the office and we instantly had a chat with her and assessed the situation.

It emerged that Katie had a much more positive relationship with her dad. When we asked Paula about the relationship she’d had with her own mum, she became very emotional and explained how difficult her own teenage years had been. Her own mum had been so strict with her that she didn’t want to repeat this with her own daughter. 

We worked with Paula on how to put boundaries in place for Katie and that upholding such boundaries is about teaching, supporting and loving your child.

Over time, with our help, the relationship healed. The outcome was that Katie stopped smoking and started coming home at the agreed time. Going forwards, Paula and Katie have a much better way to communicate.



By Lisa Scivetti - Programme staff

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