"Every teenager in the world feels like that, feels broken or out of place, different somehow, royalty mistakenly born into a family of peasants.”
From City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.

Do you remember how you felt as a teenager, when your parents just didn’t understand you and it seemed that the adult world just wanted to crush your freedom and your dreams? Perhaps like Cassandra Clare’s heroine in her Shadowhunters series, Clary Fray, you spent your adolescence searching for a sense of belonging and identity, or perhaps you found your tribe and yet frequently got into trouble with your friends.

Adolescence is a tricky period for both young people and their parents and carers. It is a period of simultaneously attempting to ‘hold on’ to the relationship while also focusing on nurturing independence and ‘letting go.’ It is full of conflicting feelings for all. It is also a period where parents find themselves with little support and information. In the early months and years of parenting we are bombarded with advice and help. From check-ins with midwives and health visitors, to meet ups with friends made at antenatal groups, emails from online due date clubs and stacks of baby books and magazines.

Matrescence, the term for the physical and emotional transition mothers go through as a new mother, is a period of intense change. We must learn to adapt to our new role and our new position in society as well as adjusting to our baby’s intense need for us, twenty-four hours a day, all while our bodies are recovering from childbirth. In recent years more and more is being written about matrescence and we are finally beginning to offer new parents some of the support they need. When you have a teenager though everybody expects you to know what you’re doing. You’re a pro at parenting now, having done it for over a decade. There are no ‘teenatal’ classes, no health professionals at the end of a phone, no ‘parent and teen’ groups and no ‘teenternity’ leave. The books about raising teens amount to less than ten percent of those written about raising babies or toddlers and of these books, many take an outdated stance of being an authoritarian disciplinarian; an approach that tends to fracture teen-parent relationships and ultimately makes behaviour, or mental health, worse.

Our society is particularly unkind to teenagers. We are told that “they need to be taught a lesson,” that we should “teach them there are consequences for their actions” and we are told that we should toughen them up, ready for the real world. TV programmes and films portray teens to be inept and selfish and media articles frequently bemoan the “state of the youth of today.” In fact, research tells us that teens today are some of the best yet. Their generation care about the environment, they care about social justice and inequality, they study harder at school, smoke less, drink less and engage less in underage sex. Despite this, parents are advised to follow harsh discipline methods that centre on punishment and exclusion. Eavesdrop on any conversation about a wayward teen and within seconds you’ll hear “take his Xbox away!” or “ground her!” The thing is, this punishment is not only harmful for the parent-teen relationship, but it also makes behaviour worse in the long term, because it doesn’t ever work with the root cause of the behaviour and importantly doesn’t help or teach the teen a better way to behave.

Frustratingly, the root cause of much difficult teen behaviour is not something that parents can discipline away. You see, a teen’s brain will not finish developing until they are in their late 20s. Until then, the attitude, disorganisation, impulsivity, and defiance that many parents struggle with are simply indicators of a normal teen brain development. Does this mean you can’t change their behaviour, or make life easier for you as a parent, carer, or teacher, or teens? No, you can certainly help. How? Well, everything starts with you. You may not be able to control your teen’s behaviour, but you can control your own. You can be a better role model. You can take time to reset your expectations of your teen, informed by current neuroscience, so that they are realistic and achievable. You can work to improve your relationship and communication with them and ultimately you can work to undo any harmful subconscious bias and beliefs that you have carried with you since your own teen years.

The teen years are undeniably hard as a parent, but they can also be wonderful, exciting, and enjoyable. In my new book How to Raise a Teen,’ I have worked hard to provide a genuinely useful resource for parents, providing them with that much-needed missing support, information, and evidence-backed tips to help not only their teen, but themselves too. It’s the book I wish I had read when my own four children (now all young adults) were teenagers, answering all the questions I had and providing a reassuring chat with somebody who has lived through those years and not only survived, but thrived.


Sarah Ockwell-Smith is the mother of four children. She has a BSc in Psychology and worked for several years in Pharmaceutical Research and Development. Following the birth of her first child, Sarah re-trained as a Paediatric Homeopath, Antenatal Teacher and Birth and Postnatal Doula. She has also undertaken training in Baby Massage, Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy. Sarah specialises in gentle parenting methods and is co-founder of the GentleParenting website (www.gentleparenting.co.uk). Sarah writes a parenting blog (www.sarahockwell-smith.com), which is read by 3 million parents per year, and is the author of BabyCalm, ToddlerCalm and The Gentle Sleep Book, The Gentle Parenting Book, The Gentle Discipline Book, The Gentle Potty Training Book, The Gentle Eating Book, The Second Baby Book, The Starting School Book Between: A guide for parents of eight to thirteen-year-olds, How to Be a Calm Parent and Beginnings. She frequently writes for magazines and newspapers, and is often called upon as a parenting expert for national television and radio. Author's Website: https://www.gentleparenting.co.uk/

How to Raise a Teen – a guide for parents of 13-21yr olds is out on July 4th.