Sunday 18 February 2018

How to parent teens during the long summer holidays

If you think the Terrible Twos are bad, wait till you have Terrible Teens, says Barbara Scully, as she shares her top tips for surving - and enjoying- the school break

Teenage kicks: Barbara Scully with her teenage daughters Roisin (16) and Mia (14). Photo: Mark Condren
Teenage kicks: Barbara Scully with her teenage daughters Roisin (16) and Mia (14). Photo: Mark Condren

Go to the 'parenting' section of any bookshop and what will you find? Lots of books about babies and toddlers, toting advice on everything from potty training to how to get a fussy toddler to eat vegetables. Newspapers and magazines are full of similar advice in regular 'parenting columns'.

I smile ruefully at the innocence. Real parenting is not about such mundane matters. Oh no... let me tell you REAL PARENTING IS ABOUT PARENTING TEENAGERS.

Sorry - I am shouting?

I have already done one round of teenager parenting. I am glad to report that, despite the fact that I guided her towards adulthood in a permanent state of hysteria and confusion, she seems to have turned out a nice woman who seems to like me.

The bad news is that I am back wading through the choppy hormonal waters again with two more daughters - aged 14 and 16.

I have written before about how broken I think our system of secondary education is, but boy do I miss it during the summer.

Mornings are fine, but my heart starts to sink somewhere between midday and 2pm because it's around then that a bedroom door squeaks open signalling the imminent arrival downstairs of a hooded figure who grunts and shuffles from fridge to cooker to microwave muttering about how there is nothing to eat in the house.

It's actually worse if I have to come home to the half light of a house in semi-darkness, because the bright sunlight makes telly watching impossible.

Curtains are drawn. TV is on and the room is usually festooned with lots of cups and bowls with cereal actively cementing itself to its surface. It's like some kind of special teenage zombie apocalypse.

There have been days that they come to the dinner table still in pyjamas grunting "well it's not worth getting dressed now, is it?"

'Pick your rows carefully with teens', the voice in my head whispers. Sometimes so softly I don't hear it and so don't follow it.

And I know it's only going to get worse. I have the memories of first time around to haunt me.

I envy new parents who moan about sleepless nights. At least they know where their baby is.

Real sleepless nights are when you lie awake with your mind racing about your little darling who is gone into town with promises to be home by 1am.

It's not too bad when they are still being collected by designated parents, but in the blink of an eye I will again have an 18-year-old who will be taxiing it or getting a lift with a friend.

And it's then that curfews tend to bend and stretch as you lie awake tossing and turning straining to hear a car stop outside the house.

I do have one piece of advice for you though. If you can, get them driving early. Although being involved in teaching your petulant teen to drive is another special form of parental torture.

Teenagers are not great at accepting direction for anyone, but especially not from their mammies. And sitting in the passenger seat as the gears are crunched and your beloved car lurches at regular intervals is a real test of how hard you can bite your lip before shouting 'oh for God's sake'.

Of course learning to drive is also an expensive business. But that's another thing no one tells you until it's too late - having teenagers is fierce expensive, especially in summer. Your joy at hearing them make plans to actually leave the house on a sunny day is soon dented by the request for "a few euro" which is never less than a fiver. I spend the entire summer wondering why I have never any money in purse even though I seem to be at the ATM very regularly.

So you think you can relax from all this fraught tension by having a glass of wine of an evening. Wrong. Because your darling is going out and you are on pick up duty, at 1am, in the city.

You manage to stay awake and sober and present yourself on time at the venue. Eventually she arrives, accompanied by her friends and they all pile in, laughing and giggling and in great good humour.

You relish what's rare and get set to enjoy the craic on the way home until you realise you are the driver.

You are so not allowed to participate in their conversation. Having dropped all and sundry off you finally arrive home after 2am and realise you are wide awake while she trips up the stairs shouting back "thanks ma, love you" as she goes. You inhale rather than drink a big glass of wine.

Oh yeah, parenting babies is a walk in the park. Parenting teenagers is like trying to tip-toe elegantly uphill on a sheet of ice.

Actually it's also like the Irish weather. Sunny spells are rare but there are lots of scattered showers and gale force winds. It's no bloody wonder they don't write so many books about it. Like the Irish weather, endless patience is required - but when the sun does come out? Well, it's just so beautiful it could make you cry.

Irish Independent

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