If you are the parent of teenage children you may be wondering where your compliant, fun and loving elementary age kids went. While you are certainly not alone, it can be difficult enough to navigate the teen years if you are the parent of one child that age. But what happens if you have two or even three teenagers residing in your house at the same time? While fighting throughout the teen years is a common pattern, there are things you can do to help your kids get along better. Interestingly, much of what you do as a parent can affect sibling rivalry or the lack thereof.
Here is what you need to know to help your teenage children get along:
• Remember that every teenager is different. It is sometimes easier to see and accept the differences in our younger children but it becomes more difficult as they get older. While your 16 year old is reserved and studious, your 13 year old may be gregarious and outgoing. While one child needs lots of time alone, the other may be a social butterfly. When parents realize, acknowledge and, most importantly, respect the differences in their children, they are in a better position to help them get along. It is important to realize that comments like, “Why can’t you just do it like your brother/sister?” don’t help.
• Don’t fall into the fair or equal trap. This is common for parents of teenagers who are trying to keep the peace. Remember this is not a democracy. Just because your older child could handle a later curfew does not mean that when the younger ones reach the same age they will be able to as well. Remind your kids when they fight over phones, curfews and other privileges that you are the deciding voice, based on their maturity level. This should silence them pretty quickly!
• Don’t give up on setting ground rules. While younger children are typically more compliant and apt to follow rules, as they are not trying to establish their own identities as this age, it is still important to set and keep rules in your family about how you treat each other. It is crucial no matter the ages of your children that family members treat each other with respect and courtesy. Teenagers with their better developed vocabularies can turn on each other in devastating ways. Do not allow your teens to name-call, belittle or otherwise insult each other. Remind them that, however angry they may be, you still expect them to resolve their differences with each other peacefully, respectfully and constructively. If they are unable to do this, make sure that consequences are attached to bad behavior.
• Set boundaries within the home. Do you have one sibling constantly borrowing clothes without permission? Does one teenager in your home lose control when certain possessions are touched? If so, it is time to gather your teens together for a family summit. Work with them to establish rules and consequences for violating personal space. This will go a long way toward keeping the peace.
• Don’t be the referee, be the coach – Remember that your job is not to resolve every fight. While you certainly should step in and separate combatants if the fighting seems to be escalating physically, generally try to stay out of it. Your job as a parent is to be the coach. If you can teach your children the skills they need to get along with each other it will go a long way toward keeping the peace in your home and guiding your growing teenagers into adults who can cope successfully out in the real world.