Thursday, August 7, 2014

Parenting Teen Girls - An Evening With Michael Carr-Gregg

IMAGE:THE MOTHER LOAD | Michael Carr-Gregg
The further along I travel on my journey as a parent, the more I suspect that firstly the learning curve is getting steeper as the years rush by and secondly that I may well be monumentally screwing things up and no one is coming out and telling me honestly. I often balance precariously on the verge of feeling as though each parenting strategy I adopt might be the right one, and probably feels appropriate but then again I half-expect any possible dire consequences of my strategy to hit me suddenly, teach me that well-needed lesson and remind me of just how badly I'm doing. So mostly for me, it's a confidence game coupled with my somewhat unrealistic desire for parenting perfection. Oh what a fun mum I must be! With these various insecurities in mind, I have always found the advice and wisdom of others vitally important on this parenting journey. This seems especially true now as we head into the challenging adolescent years, aiming to raise well-balanced people who at the end of their teen journey still have some level of respect for you as their trusted parent and indeed for themselves.

This week, I had the pleasure of attending a talk on parenting teen girls by well-respected and nationally recognised child and adolescent psychologist, Michael Carr-Gregg. Damn, it was good. It was one of those sessions where everything discussed felt crucially relevant to me and as though the session had been written solely with my own family in mind. The session passed in the blink of an eye but I certainly gleaned a huge amount of knowledge, insight and information while being genuinely entertained by this fabulously engaging speaker.

Here's what really resonated with me and what I felt were important points to share.

When it comes to parenting teens (boys or girls), there are seven key points which should remain non-negotiable. According to Michael these include diet, sleep, curfew, internet, sex, drugs and alcohol. Regardless of your parenting style, these elements should have a pretty consistent set of rules applied to them. While compromise is a big part of negotiating through the teen years as they're striving for independence, that old adage 'always be the parent before you're their friend..' rings true when it comes to the important rules of the house.

As a parent of a teen, Michael suggests the following advice for keeping things on track:
  • Regardless of the level of angst between you and your child in any given situation, try to remain calm in your approach. If it is beginning to be difficult to maintain, then simply walk away allowing time to re-group or to diffuse the situation. (Apparently a trip to the bathroom is usually an appropriate escape route given that no one especially wants to spend time together in there - how times change from when they were little, eh?) 
  • Don't talk too much (guilty as charged). Try and listen to what your child is trying to say and avoid that situation we're all familiar with where you end up saying the same thing in thirty-five different ways and they simply shut down and engage the eye-roll. Clearly from my own perspective, I need to stop the useless babbling if I'm going to have any success in the coming years.
  • Further to above point, pick your battles.  Make your point about the things that really matter; the state of the bedroom for example, while important from a hygiene perspective may not be the battle worth waging over and over again. If you choose your battles wisely, perhaps they'll pay attention a little more when you do have a point to make.
  • Use humour and keep your conversations upbeat if you can (and if your sense of humour allows!) - it's often a good way to diffuse a situation. At times I imagine this is harder than it sounds but in saying that, I suddenly realise that my kids probably don't have the first idea that I even HAVE a sense of humour given my never-ending quest for things to be just right.  (Note to self : relax a bit and maybe attend more stand-up).
  • Avoid being confrontational and also avoid ultimatums; they're not constructive and often you can't follow through with the threat which can in turn makes your approach inconsistent and weightless. I do this all the time and we all know birthday parties can be pretty inconvenient and expensive to cancel at the last minute (yet not impossible, if my kids are reading this!).
  • Provide your kids with positive feedback regularly. Not necessarily on the ordinary stuff so that they come to expect it when they do the smallest thing, but when it is genuinely warranted. Make it clear that they've made a really decent choice or achieved something great when it happens.
  • Don't remind kids of their past mistakes.  I hate to be reminded of mine after the fact so I can imagine how this can make a surly teenager feel.
  • Use the time spent together for conversation. Most of us suddenly find ourselves working a part time job as taxi driver running kids from one activity to another; use this time to chat and if there are other kids present, get to know them too. Observing the various friendships your kids make goes long way in understanding how your own child ticks. Also, eat as a family and use the time for conversation. This sounds like a no-brainer but I reckon we'd all be surprised by the statistics that exist on how few families do actually eat together free from the distractions of TV and other devices.
Michael Carr-Gregg is a really big advocate for ensuring teens get enough sleep and I was startled by some of the stats that exist on how little some kids are getting and how it can affect them, long term. Apparently, a teenager should be getting around nine hours per night and it is currently suggested that the national average hovers around only 5.3 hours per night. (WHAT?!) That's staggering. I couldn't function on that little sleep let alone a growing body balancing precariously between childhood and adulthood. Sleep routine is currently one of my ongoing battles but from a priority perspective, it has just shot directly to the top of my list. Michael suggests that during the half hour prior to bedtime, we should avoid bright lights (including devices), avoid hot showers and aim to minimise any anxiety or stress. This suggested regime is what we're all trying in our house from today (and I'm happy to forgive the 'toothpaste art' that was left from brushing in a darkened bathroom this time). You can find more information about sleep on Michael's blog here.

The discussion around childhood depression really resonated with me too; I was staggered to learn that 1:4 secondary students and 1:7 primary aged kids are classified as depressed. What a confronting statistic that is. Michael suggests that we should be talking to our kids about mental illness; we should define it, explain the signs and feelings associated with it and help them understand that it is an illness worthy of addressing and that they are normal. Importantly, it's worth noting that approx. 70% of girls who are depressed, tell no one so looking out for the signs is vital. The signs of depression include sadness, a change in personality including withdrawal, an inability to sleep, irritability, and  reduced self-esteem.  A good trustworthy family GP is of course the first place to start with regard to getting professional assistance.

Man, I could go on and on. I was especially rapt to hear Michael say that social media is not something to panic about or shy away from, but just something to regulate. It's a part of our world now so we simply need to find "our digital spine" as parents which is great advice and something I needed hear as the mum of a ten year old girl who is beginning to dabble in that area of technology. In regard to alcohol, he's a big fan of zero tolerance until the age of sixteen (again, one of his key non-negotiable parenting points) however from that age you can consider introducing a little in conjunction with a meal under parental supervision. Super sensible approach and a great way to provide an introduction to something that is pretty much an inevitable inclusion in their lives at some point.

Attending Michael Carr-Gregg's talk not only gave me several tips on improving my approach to being a parent of soon-to-be teen girls but he also allowed me to walk away feeling as though perhaps my own approach to the coming years was closer to being on track than I thought. With a few minor tweaks made now, hopefully all the members of our family will be in reasonably good shape for the tumultuous years ahead.

If you get the chance to hear him speak, take it. In the meantime, further information can be found at Michael Carr-Gregg's website here. 


  1. He has some very wise suggestions. As a mother of a now nearly 20 year - it was picking the battles that made it through. She is doing well and happy and we still are close so I think the 'moments' we had weren't too bad.

    1. Hi Annaleis, thanks for your comment. I can only hope to have the same journey through the teen years as you. Good on you!