The sleepless nights and toddler tantrums are a distant memory, and you thought you had it under control with the so-called ‘golden years’ – that comforting place where you’re still the centre of their universe, they skip along, greet you with boundless enthusiasm, and still even value your opinion. Well, maybe not always, but enough to give you that ‘they love me’ fix!

It comes as quite a shock when the sleepless nights and tantrums re-emerge, and in a new and much less endearing format – you’re back to being awake at night but this time it’s ‘will they get back safe, should I get up and check/give them a lift, are they wasted?!…’.

When the full-blown teenage experience kicks in, it can really test your nerves and dent your confidence. It might not happen overnight (re-live the ‘Kevin becomes a teenager’ classic video moment below), and you knew it was coming – it’s part of the package and, let’s face it, we’ve all been there, but knowing it rationally and living it emotionally are worlds apart!

It takes courage and patience to navigate this scary new norm. How true the phrase ‘little children little problems, big children big problems’.

Time to remind yourself you’re learning some great life and leadership lessons along the way:

Conflict management and emotional intelligence

It’s uninvited and seldom welcomed, and teenagers don’t hold back in challenging our opinions and choices. Embrace it, it’s a great opportunity to build on the four domains of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness – that vital first step in the emotional intelligence journey. Get good at asking yourself ‘How is my behaviour helping or hindering their reactions?,’ even when there feels no obvious logic to their reaction, other than their complicated developing brain! We’ve all added that extra ‘I told you so’ just because it felt good.
  • Self-management – you’ll get endless opportunities to practise this second element with that all important big dose of patience. Remember they’re not the ‘finished article’, so we will have take more responsibility for this than them.
  • Social awareness –  It’s not going to be an equal two-way process, their brain doesn’t have the wiring capabilities yet! We’d love them to put themselves in our shoes, just be aware it’s not going to happen naturally. Remember too, that teenagers, like team members, are all individuals. What worked for their elder sibling, or a co-worker may not work for them and being flexible in your approach will pay. Listen beyond their words to the emotions being expressed.
  • Relationship management – this is the goal, and by putting the first three elements together you’ll be well on the way to navigating this fascinating, and challenging, emotional intelligence journey.

On a good day, just now and then, when their eloquence is demonstrated as an unexpected gift, you can stand back and appreciate the value of allowing them to master their debating skills. Dare to admire their skill at constructing a pretty good case in challenging your decision, and dare to admire your willpower at holding back the judgement.

If you can demonstrate humility and admit when you’ve got something wrong, this will also serve you well as a leader. There’s no failure, only failure to learn.

Personal growth

When your opinions and requests are continually challenged, it can feel personal, exhausting and hurtful. Picture the scene, you’ve rushed back from work after a stressful day, you’ve managed to throw together dinner and you’re only requirement is a conflict free meal. You casually make a simple request or a helpful suggestion and yet tonight it seems to have provoked the nuclear option.

A toddler’s tantrum can be tough but their cuteness and charm quickly builds bridges. Let’s be honest, teenagers’ behaviours are less endearing and don’t readily invite compassion and tolerance. Frustration, anger and feeling rejected might be easier reactions for us to express.

But challenging you is an essential part of their development as individuals. So dig deep, take the opportunity to examine your own values, learn to respect others in all their diversity. This will serve you well in all aspects of your life.

Resilience

You’re overcoming adversity and handling immense change. Planning is important of course, but it’s flexibility and flexible thinking that will see you through the unwanted, yet inevitable disruptions.

My 5 top tips

  • Avoid Micromanagement like the plague – it doesn’t work with teenagers or your team! Yes you’d love to control everything, but trying to just sets them, and you, up for failure. Put in place reasonable boundaries so everyone’s clear and review regularly.
  • Build trust by letting go instead. Yes it feels uncomfortable but the rewards are worth it. Independence developed as a result of learning from mistakes enables teenagers and team members to flourish and reach their potential.
  • Beware ‘The story you tell yourself’ – something happens and we jump to conclusions. Take a moment and try to think rationally, what could the other stories be?
  • Keep it in perspective and cultivate a sense of humour – Ask yourself on a scale of 1-10 how important this latest drama is in the grand scale of things. Is that transgression really worth damaging your relationship for? Sometimes you might even see the funny side and they might too!
  • Seek support, surround yourself with real friends who enjoy sharing honest and funny stories, avoid the showcasing of ‘perfect’ lives. As a manager it’s equally important to reach out to colleagues you trust to share best practice, and discuss what’s bothering you. At home or work you might even need to seek professional help, there’s no shame in that. Mental health problems are common in teenagers, in the workplace and society in general, and we all need to get better at talking about them (At least 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year – source MIND).

When you come through your journey (and you will), you can reflect with pride on the skills you’ve all built.

As a parent, carer or someone who has overcome adversity, what experiences have particularly built your resilience, emotional intelligence and leadership skills? What key learning can you share?

I’d love to know! By valuing and sharing our learnings we remind ourselves, and others what we’re capable of, and both our home and work lives benefit.

My recommended reads:

Rob Parson’s ‘Teenagers – What every parent has to know’. You’ll laugh out loud, realise you’re not alone and get some great tips on setting boundaries and finding a way to keep it all in perspective.

Ruby Wax, in ‘A Mindfulness guide for the Frazzled’ has a very informative section on teenage brain development, excerpt from chapter 8 below. It’s a no-nonsense, down-to-earth, outrageously humorous, yet practical, exploration of mindfulness.

‘Brain Stem In the early teen years the primitive area is more active so hot emotions, boiling under the surface, can suddenly blow like a volcano…With a half assed Prefrontal Cortex he’s incapable of much empathy so has no interest in what anyone is feeling. This is why parents are often treated like dirt. Chances are he’s not mad at you, you just happen to be in the way.’ Ruby Wax – chapter 8 A mindfulness guide to the frazzled

Re-live the ‘Kevin becomes a teenager’ classic video moment below

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