How to cope with your child’s transition into a teenager

We talk a lot about how parents and carers can support their children. But once in a while, the parents and carers need a bit of love and focus too. It’s hard raising a child! One of the most difficult transitions as a parent is that of your child turning into a teenager. The once bubbly, can’t-get-enough-of-your-attention kid can suddenly turn into a sulky adolescent who rolls their eyes and doesn’t want to spend time with you. It hurts. But it’s also normal; they’re going through huge physical, cognitive and social changes, including a greater need to establish their identity outside of the family unit. So, what can parents and carers do to make this period of change easier on themselves?

Remember what they’re going through

Remember being a teenager? Much of it was difficult, right? So many emotions, so much confusion. It’s an exciting, but also incredibly challenging time. It can help to ease your frustration or sadness at their behaviour to remember what it is that they’re going through. They might act like the sky is falling over something trivial, but in their world, it really feels like it is.

Less time talking, more time listening

As kids get older, our role should involve less talking at them and more listening to them. Taking the time to find out their thoughts, feelings and values takes the pressure off you and whatever message you’re trying to impart, as well as re-establishes your connection. They’re more likely to listen to you if make the effort to listen to them. 

Don’t take it personally

It might feel like a personal attack when they scoff at the idea of a family weekend trip – but it’s the hormones in their brain pulling the strings. Everything inside of their body is telling them to seek independence from their family and establish their own identity. It’s a painful, but necessary transformation – one that will help them to become an adult one day. It also doesn’t mean they love you or need you any less. It can be hard to ‘feel’ this, but it’s what we need to remind ourselves as parents.

Don’t fight it…

It can be tempting to dig in our heels to our child’s new developments, and to lay down many restrictions to their growing desire for freedom. But continually referring to them in infantilising ways and/or coming down hard as an authority figure won’t help your relationship. As they get older, your young person will change and they’ll need greater freedoms, and hard as it may be sometimes, this needs to be accepted and granted. As they grow, your role should be less about imposing consequences and more about sustaining a supportive connection.

…But still be a good parent, not the ‘cool’ parent

The last point being said, your young person still needs you to set healthy boundaries and limits around their behaviour. Giving into their every desire for greater freedom isn’t good for their growth; their frontal lobe still has many years of developing and as much as they think they can make their own decisions, sometimes it simply isn’t safe or healthy for them to do so. Maintaining boundaries also offers your young person a sense of safety and stability in their fast-changing world.

Focus on quality over quantity of time

It hurts when your teen starts acting like spending time with you is a chore. But just because they want to spend more time with their friends, doesn’t mean they don’t still appreciate quality family time when it happens. Rather than trying to drag them along to every outing, plan some specific family events where you can connect over an activity that you’ll all enjoy.

Separate your worries from theirs

We all have some unresolved traumas from childhood. Watching teens go through puberty can trigger some of our past issues – but it’s important to not let those feelings get tangled with that of our teens or how we feel about their development. We need to explore what anxieties come up on our own, without putting those anxieties onto our young people.

Practise self-care

What can you do to look after yourself in a tough time? For one thing, you don’t need to always engage until the end with your tween or teen. Walking away or taking time out from an argument, or simply not responding to bait, is always okay. But what other activities help you to feel recharged? An afternoon alone with a book? A once-a-month massage? An after-work walk? We know some parents won’t have much spare time or funds on their hands, but any small practices you can do to stay sane and recharge will benefit both you and your young person.

Ask for help

You’re not the only one who has been through this tough transition. Speak to friends, other family members or parent support groups about their experiences. Reach out to loved ones – even just for a vent. People who aren’t so close to your child will help provide a more objective outside perspective and advice. Books and videos (such as parenting YouTube channels: AMAZE has a good one) can also be helpful resources to guide you through this time.

Remember the upside

There are wonderful things about children growing up and becoming teenagers. For one thing, they become capable of having more thoughtful, interesting and reflective conversations. You begin to see the adult they will one day become. They can take on more responsibilities that are then taken off your hands, such as chores and homework. As they become more independent, you’re given more time to yourself once again. And one day, the teenage annoyances will pass and they’ll circle back to wanting to spend time with you.

Why the new Texas ‘heartbeat’ ban on abortion is problematic

You might have read in the news last week about a new law in Texas that bans women from accessing abortion services once a foetal heartbeat is detected. Of course, most people and laws agree or dictate that abortion no longer becomes an ethical option after a certain point in pregnancy, except in rare circumstances. So, why is this this law so controversial?

People are arguing that a ‘heartbeat’ can be detectible from about six weeks into pregnancy and that from then on a pregnancy should not be terminated. The problem with this is that ‘heartbeat’ is not a fair definition. This early in pregnancy, the embryo hasn’t formed into a foetus and doesn’t have a heart. The ultrasound is picking up an electrical signal known as a ‘flutter’ – but the embryo is no bigger than a grain of rice.

Most abortions are obtained after this point, and it makes sense. At six weeks, a person has only missed one period, and there can be other reasons why a period might be late. This new law also doesn’t offer any exemptions, including for cases of rape or incest. A 16-year-old girl – who cannot legally drink alcohol or vote – can be forced to carry her pregnancy to term, even if that pregnancy is the result of rape. And what’s more, this is a civil law that allows people to sue anyone who ‘aids’ another person in getting an abortion (and make up to $10,000 in the process, which will likely lead to vigilantism and bounty hunters seeking the payouts for informing on citizens attempting to control their own fertility).  

Here at SEA we tend to avoid politics and try to tread a middle ground with some of the more controversial areas of our work, and we understand that readers will have differing views on abortion. But we know from research and from history, that abortion bans don’t stop them from happening, they just stop them from happening safely. Only those with the time and money to travel interstate will be able to access safe abortiona, and we see this law as a step backwards in women’s rights. It is disempowering that in 2021, parts of the world are taking such retrograde action to control women’s (and AFAB people who may not identify as women) bodies in this way.

**UPDATE**

The Biden administration are now suing Texas, trying to block the enforcement of this new law. He’s sited the new law as a ‘constitutional chaos’. We’ll see which government wins out.

Further reading:

AP News

Healthline

The Guardian

Bullying: how to recognise when it’s happening to your child and when to step in

What is bullying?

Almost every relationship experiences conflict. Whether it’s between partners, friends, siblings or parents and children, we all go through disputes. Conflict is usually an argument that involves both sides expressing their opinions. But that’s different to bullying, and it’s important to be able to spot the difference.

Bullying relates to an ongoing misuse of power in a relationship; it’s the ongoing behaviours that deliberately harm another person, either verbally, physically or socially. Bullying can be in person or online. It can happen anywhere and everywhere, including schools, workplaces, within a family, on public transport or in a sports team. One study found that one in four students have experienced bullying, and while bullying can certainly happen among adults, it’s often most common among children and young people.

What does bullying look like?

Verbal bullying might include insulting and calling them names, as well as teasing, picking out someone’s flaws, mean jokes, scaring someone, threatening to cause harm or encouraging a person to harm or degrade themselves.

Physical bullying can mean any harm done to another person’s body, such as punching or kicking, but also includes things like spitting, breaking someone’s things, ruining their food or making faces or rude hand signals.

Social bullying deliberately excludes someone or makes others not like them, and includes spreading rumours, leaving someone out of a group activity, mean practical jokes, deliberately ignoring and embarrassing someone. 

Sexual bullying is defined as ‘any behaviour which degrades someone, singles someone out by the use of sexual language, gestures or violence, and victimising someone for their appearance. Sexual bullying is also pressure to act promiscuously and to act in a way that makes others uncomfortable.’ It’s also most often directed towards girls and women in a kind of misogyny that’s particularly prevalent among teenagers – of any gender. It can include inappropriate comments, lewd glances, touching or jokes.

Cyberbullying has become so prominent in today’s internet age that it now has its own term. It means to verbally, socially or sexually bully someone online. This can be done through messages, pictures, videos or comments. Even though it’s not in person, cyberbullying can be just as hurtful and damaging.

What are the signs to watch out for?

There are a few tell-tale signs when it comes to whether your child is being bullied. Withdrawing from social activities and other activities they normally enjoy, as well as not wanting to go to school can be big signals that something is wrong. Their anxiety might present itself through sickness, like stomach aches or dizzy spells, or they might act more withdrawn, mopey or irritable than normal. They also might make more negative comments about themselves.

What to do

The first action parents and carers should take is to talk to their child. Ask them about what’s going on in their social life. Ask them how they’re friends are and what they’re up to. Ask them if there’s anyone at school or anywhere else that’s making them feel bad. Ask them if anyone has said or done anything to them online that’s making them uncomfortable. If they do admit something to you, try to react calmly. We know this is hard (no one hurts our babies!) but we don’t want to make our children regret telling us what’s going on.

Thank your child or teen for opening up to you and let them know that you’ll always be there for them. Tell them that this is bullying and it’s not their fault; they are not to blame in any way. Reassure them that they’re not alone and you’re here to help. Talk about how no one deserves to be bullied, and everyone has the right to feel safe at school or with friends.

For light bullying

From there, you have a couple of different options. If the bullying so far seems to be new and light, you might want to wait to step in and instead encourage your child to talk to the bully about how they feel. Offer them strategies and work out a plan together for stopping the bullying. Suggest that they tell the bully what they don’t like about their behaviour, and what it makes them feel. But remember, this strategy is only for light bullying by one or two people. For more severe bullying, including whole group bullying, you’ll need to step in.

For severe bullying

For more systematic, ongoing and/or severe bullying, you’ll need to intervene – even if they don’t want you to. Start by letting their teacher(s) and the school know what’s going on. Document any evidence that you can, including writing down what your child has said to you and taking screenshots of anything said or done over social media. Find out your child or teen’s school’s anti-bullying policy and speak to them about the actions outlined.

It’s important in these circumstances not to speak directly to the bully or to the bully’s parent(s). Parents will be emotional and defensive, so you’re unlikely to have a productive conversation. And as angry as you might be at the child or teen – or however bad their behaviour may be – they’re still young and there will be more appropriate people in their life who can address these issues. That’s also what schools are here for; let them be the mediators.  

You might also want to speak to the school counsellor and suggest your child does the same. For extreme cases, you might want or need to tell the police. Cyberbullying can also be reported online, including reporting posts or images to the site or to the eSafety Commissioner. Your young person might want to consider blocking the person who’s attacking them or taking a breather and stepping away from a group chat for a while (they can do this by leaving the group or putting it on ‘silent’).

You can also provide your young person with resources that will help (because sometimes they need to talk to more than just their parents). We recommend Kids Helpline and Headspace.

How to talk to a child or teen who doesn’t want to listen

As a parent, having a child who won’t pay attention to what you’re saying – or downright ignores you – can be one of the most frustrating feelings in the world. This often comes with adolescence, as young people seek to separate themselves and their identity from the family unit. It can be exasperating, but to them, their own inner life and whatever is going on in their social circle/netball club/video game can just feel more important than what’s on your mind. Some tweens or teens may go through particularly rebellious phases where it won’t matter how good a parent you are. It can even just be a part of brain function, as their frontal lobe still has many years of development to complete (and we all know listening is a skill, even as adults).

Whatever their issue is, it can help to try and understand why your child can’t or doesn’t want to listen. And there are things you can do to reach and engage them – even if they initially don’t want to. It’s also important to remember that there’s a difference between not paying attention and not actually listening, as most kids will be taking on board what you’re saying even if they don’t outwardly show it.

Time your message right

We all want our children to listen to us right away. But if you have something important to say, consider the timing. During a video game, texting session or another conversation may not be the best moment to bring something up. Alternatively, car trips or walks might be good times for conversation. If what you have to say is urgent, you can simply ask if you can have their attention in a few minutes once they’ve finished whatever they’re focused on – which shows you respect their time.

Keep important messages clear and concise

It’s easy once we get the ball rolling to remember all those other little things you wanted to bring up – or to springboard from one issue to another. But our kids are more likely to listen if we’re giving them clear and direct messages without rambling on. Thinking about what you want to say first can help with this. If you remember something else you want to bring up, save it for another conversation.

Try to create a dialogue, not a lecture

No one likes being lectured to. And kids are more likely to feel respected and engaged if we make the effort to demonstrate that we value their feelings, thoughts and opinions. Plus, asking questions is a great ‘in’ for any conversation topic. This can also include offering them a choice between a few options, rather than a command. So, for example, rather than saying, ‘I want you to do the dishes after dinner,’ you can say, ‘If I cook, do you think it’s fair if you do the dishes tonight? If not, what’s another chore that you think would be fair to do?’

Be consistent and repetitive

Important conversations should never just be a one-time-only deal. Speaking often and repeating information will help young people retain key messages and reinforce that you’re always here to talk. Even if it’s something more menial, being consistent in what you want can help get your message through. Asking children to repeat back to you what you’ve said to them can also help improve their active listening skills.

Empathise with them

Remember being young? Not always easy, right? Especially after puberty hits. Letting your young person know you see and understand their challenges helps to break down any walls they may put up. It’s also another good conversation ‘in’ to open the chat by talking about how you recognise what’s going on with them.

Praise and reward active listening

If you have moments when your young person does connect and actively listen to you, show them your appreciation. Thank them for paying attention and taking you seriously. Talk about how they’ve just demonstrated active listening and how it’s an important skill to have as an adult. And if they begin to listen more consistently, reward their good behaviour.

Model good communication skills

We can’t expect our children to behave in positive ways if we don’t model that behaviour ourselves. Of course, we’re not perfect and we’re not always going to get it right. But our children aren’t going to listen to us if we don’t make an effort to listen them and others around us – at least most of the time.

Use books and other resources

So, your child doesn’t want to listen to you? That’s okay, they might take advice from someone else. Leaving an educational book by your young person’s bed is a great way of getting messages to them that you might be struggling to do yourself. Plus, it’s a resource they can always come back to at their leisure, when they’re ready. You can also send them helpful online resources too such as AMAZE’s videos or KidsHelpline.

One great resource we’ve found helpful is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk (what a mouthful!) This is written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and you can buy a copy here.

Human sexual anatomy: a refresher course, or what your child needs to know

One of the most important things children need in their health education is accurate, age-appropriate information about bodies and bodily functions. There’s actually a lot going on down, or in, there – and sometimes parents might enter the chat not remembering every little body part or what they all do. And that’s okay! It’s not exactly everyday information. So, we thought we’d give our parent audience a refresher (and hey, you might even learn a thing or two). It’s also worth noting that some of this information on sexual pleasure you can wait to tell your kids until you feel they’re mature enough to know. They don’t need to know all of this, all at once.

FEMALE

OUTSIDE

Vulva

This is the whole outside part of the genitals. It includes the outer and inner labia, the vagina and urethra openings, and the clitoris.

Labia majora

The labia are the folds of skin around the vaginal opening. The labia majora, otherwise known as the ‘outer lips’, are usually fleshy and covered with pubic hair.

Labia minora

Otherwise known as the ‘inner lips’, the labia minora, are the fleshy folds insider the labia majora. They begin at the clitoris and end under the opening to the vagina, and may be covered by the outer lips, but also might extend outside. Vulvas come in all shapes and sizes.

Clitoris

On the outside of the body, the tip of the clitoris is the spongey tissue at the top of the vulva, and ranges from about the size of a pea to a thumb. The clitoris also has a shaft that extends inside the body and down both sides of the vagina. It’s very sensitive, with more nerve endings than any other part of the body. It’s function is for sexual pleasure.

Vaginal opening

The vaginal opening is right below the urethral opening – they’re not the same! See ‘vagina’ below for more info.

Urethra opening

The urethra is the tube where urine leaves the body from the bladder. It’s opening is very small (much smaller than the vaginal opening) and is located below the clitoris.

Anus

The anus is the opening to the rectum where ‘poo’ or faeces leaves the body. 

INSIDE

Vagina

The vagina is a stretchy tube that leads from the cervix to the outside of the body. It’s where menstrual blood and vaginal discharge leave the body, as well as a baby if being born that way, and where the penis fits for sexual intercourse. It’s the place where some menstrual products like tampons are inserted. The vagina can expand and become moist when a person is sexually excited.

Cervix

The cervix is located between the vagina and uterus and divides and connects the two. It’s what lets menstrual fluid out and sperm in. During childbirth, the cervix stretches so that the baby can come through.

Uterus

The uterus is a hollow organ above the cervix that expands during pregnancy. This is where a baby can grow, although if there is no pregnancy the uterus will shed its lining once a month (also known as menstruation/periods).

Ovaries

The ovaries are two glands that grow and store egg cells (ova), and produce sex hormones (including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone). During puberty, the ovaries release an egg each month until menopause (when a woman’s period stops). This is also known as ovulation.

Fallopian tubes

The fallopian tubes are two narrow tubes on either side of the uterus that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. Sperm can travel up along these tubes to try and fertilise an egg.

MALE

OUTSIDE

Penis

The penis is a fleshy tube that hangs from the body and is used for urination and sexual intercourse. It is made from spongy tissue and blood vessels. When a person has an erection, nerves cause the blood vessels to expand; this makes the penis hard and stand away from the body.

Glans (of the penis)

The glans is the tip, or head, of the penis. It contains the most nerves and is very sensitive. This is where the urethral opening is, and where urine, pre-ejaculate and semen leave the body.

Foreskin (of the penis)

The foreskin is a covering of skin that protects the head (glans). When a penis becomes erect, the foreskin pulls back and the tip is exposed. Sometimes the foreskin is removed by a doctor through circumcision.

Scrotum

The scrotum is the loose, pouch-like sac of skin that hangs below the penis containing the testicles. The scrotum protects the testicles and keeps them at the right temperature. Sperm can be damaged if their environment becomes too heated.

Urethral opening

The opening to the urethra is at the tip of the penis, and connects to the tube that transports both semen and urine out of the body. Semen, which contains sperm, is ejaculated through this opening at the point of orgasm. When the penis is erect, the flow of urine is blocked from the urethra, so only semen can pass along the tube.

Anus

The anus is the opening to the rectum, where ‘poo’ or faeces leaves the body.

INSIDE

Urethra

The urethra is the tube that runs from the bladder to the tip of the penis. It carries urine, pre-ejaculate and semen to the urethral opening and out of the body.

Testicles

The testes or testicles are the (generally) two oval organs that hang inside the scrotum. They produce both sperm and testosterone.

Epididymis

The epididymis is a coiled tube that sits at the back of each testicle, connecting to each through the vas deferens. It’s where sperm matures until it’s ready for fertilisation and releases the sperm into the vas deferens before orgasm. 

Vas deferens

The vas deferens are the two tubes (one connected to each epididymis) that carry the sperm from the testicles.  

Prostate gland

The prostate gland is a walnut-sized gland below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It makes extra fluid that nourishes the sperm and helps them move. Body parts like the epididymis, the vas deferens and the prostate gland you don’t need explain to your primary-school-aged children, but they might like to know if they’re curious and asking questions.