Parenting advice from a teenager


Steph Bowe

Nineteen-year-old author Steph Bowe has some sage advice for mothers about the universal teenage experience.

Steph Bowe.

Steph Bowe. Photo: Supplied

My mother, who is not a hairdresser, cut my hair and gave me a fringe the evening before school photo day when I was 12. Fringes don't suit me, especially not weirdly thick, choppy ones. But we managed to get past it. I still let her cut my hair on many occasions after this. (Sometimes I trust my mum slightly too much.)

The point is, parents make mistakes – and it's important to give teenagers room to make mistakes. This is how we learn, this is how you learnt. If you have an honest, communicative relationship with your daughter, this will see you through the inevitable misunderstandings, such as the following:

"Questionable material"
Many mothers perceive the world to be darker than when they were growing up, and feel if their daughters are exposed to the wrong things, they will be permanently corrupted. This only makes a teenager even more curious.

Exposure to "questionable material" (in films, books, the internet) is inevitable, but it is much more important to initiate conversations about difficult topics. Being able to talk openly with my mother, and discuss my thoughts with her without being judged, is something for which I am extraordinarily grateful. And don't be offended if your daughter doesn't "friend" you on Facebook. She's probably just worried you'll leave embarrassing "love you" messages on her page. If you live with her, you might as well just tell her that you love her in person.


The pressure to succeed
Articles on how to raise an especially successful child – with advice like "play Mozart to your pregnant belly" or "it's never too early to teach your baby the Periodic table!" – terrify me. This paint-by-numbers version of raising a prodigy won't work, except to generate a child overwhelmed by endless activities, and a teenager crippled by the expectations of others.

It is always a bad idea to live vicariously through your child, and they're likely to rebel against you as a teenager. It's also a bad idea to tell your teenager they should study medicine or law if they have no interest in either. And don't tell them that what they are passionate about has no money in it, or is too competitive, or the field will collapse entirely.

People have been talking about the death of books for years, and I have been told many times that it's impossible to be published, or that teenagers can't write, or that hardly anyone makes a living as a writer, and yet, here I am – because I had my mum there, telling me to do what makes me happy. Not to be successful and impress people. Just to write because I enjoy it.

Clothing and judgment
Every couple of months, a current-affairs show will broadcast a story on the moral depravity of today's youth, with footage of 18-year-olds stumbling around on a night out, and with a social commentator telling us girls who wear short skirts are trollops (they don't tend to speculate as to the sexual promiscuity of boys).

This judgment from others in the world is unavoidable, but it's not necessary for mums to take part. It's vital that mums allow daughters to choose how they want to dress (at least most of the time), as it's an important part of self-expression and figuring out one's identity.

For an entire term of year 5, I wore three-quarter-length, bright-orange boardshorts under my school dress, as well as Paris Hilton sunglasses and occasionally a fedora (Justin Timberlake had made them seem incredibly cool). My mother didn't even try to stop me. If you don't have an opportunity to cringe at your past fashion faux pas, it'll feel like missing out on an important rite of passage. (However, rushing out to get a tattoo as soon as you turn 18 is something else entirely.)

This too shall pass
For some odd reason, there are all these strange adults who recall their teenage years as if they were the best time of their lives. Which just sounds depressing, frankly. It's okay to have a rubbish time of being a teenager, really. Lots of people do. If you feel awkward and insecure and frustrated and uncertain, that's just normal.

There's this feeling, as a teenager, that you need to have everything right now: freedom and independence, a clear idea of what you're doing with your life, good marks at school, the right group of friends, a perfect body. Then if one thing goes wrong, it feels as if everything's a mess: you haven't got everything sorted, but lots of people around you seem to be cool and in control.

So a mother needs to be someone who can let you know it's all going to pass, and who doesn't tell you that you're being ridiculous and melodramatic. Someone who can tell you that no one really has it worked out, but that it'll get easier with time. Being a good parent to your child and being their friend don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Trust your daughter, talk to your daughter, have patience. Most daughters would be happy with that.

Steph Bowe is the author of All This Could End.

(Text Publishing).


  • If you feel "overwhelmed by endless activities", spare as thought for disadvantaged teens whose parents couldn't be f*#ked taking them to "activities" on Saturdays, and would rather put their money down the pokies than spend money on their daughter's sports uniforms and equipment. The worst that can happen in trying to raise a prodigy is that you have a child who knows you care about them and believe in them. If you never push your children, they will resent you more.

    Date and time
    April 17, 2013, 9:33AM
    • Yes, because mothers were never teenagers...
      I think it is insulting to say in a dismissive way that people look back at their teenage years as the best of their life. Adults look back at their teenage years as ones without any responsibility, that's the reason for their nostalgia. Maybe when you have a mortgage, are under masses of stress at work and come home to screaming offspring then you'll understand why people sometimes cast their minds back to uncomplicated times in their life. But as a 19 year old obviously you have not experienced much of life beyond first year uni!

      Date and time
      April 17, 2013, 9:53AM
      • So at what point exactly should a parent actually place boundaries on their child/teenager so that they grow up understanding -responsibility- and that they can't always have things how they want them, just so. i.e. giving then a spoonful of reality.

        I don't necessarily disagree with the advice in the article, I think it is all sound - however, it does need to be tempered with structure and responsibility.

        Parents should not be -friends- they are there to teach us, love us and nurture us; but also to discipline and guide. This cannot be done from a relationship of "equal footing".

        Guess what, if you want to wear orange board shorts under your school uniform and that is against the school rules, your parents/mother should have told you to suck it up and take them off. You can wear your orange board shorts any other time.

        I strongly believe that this current trend of parents trying to be "friends" with their kids rather than bringing them up properly, is largely responsible for a great deal of social issues we are seeing today.

        And before you wonder how old I am, i'm 28 - so this is coming from a Gen Y.

        Date and time
        April 17, 2013, 10:22AM
        • I am one of those lucky parents of a 16 year old daughter. I have been following these guidelines for some years now and it seems to be working very well. I am a fairly strict parent when it comes to, what time my daughter comes home etc. But we talk alot and when I don't agree with some things she may want to do, I will explain those reasons to her. I haven't pushed her on what career goals she wants, or nagged her to go to Uni. She has the rest of her life to do things like that. My goal is to get her to adulthood without any problems, when she reaches adulthood, I hope to have taught her things that will help her in her future. I think that is all we can really do as parents, and hopefully have a good child in the future.

          Date and time
          April 17, 2013, 10:39AM
          • Well done Steph. Keep up the good work.
            It is good to know that the way I am bringing up my daughter is very similar to the way you have written about.
            My plan - love her, listen to her, support her decisions (might discourage a little if it seems dangerous/reckless) and encourage her in her own chosen interests.

            Date and time
            April 17, 2013, 12:01PM
            • Thanks for this Steph. You are a great writer and you make some helpful comments. Best wishes, Lu

              Date and time
              April 17, 2013, 12:23PM
              • Teenage years are the "best time of their lives". That doesn't mean it's perfect, but there's endless possibility. Anything could happen tomorrow. You feel immortal in your strong, fast, sharp body. You may not even realise it at the time but you'll sure as hell realise it when you start to lose it. Once you hit 30 your body starts to age noticeably in almost every way. You'll get sick/injured more often. You'll start to look older (wrinkles, grey hair, baldness, skin blemishes, accumulated injures that never heal, teeth wear/cavities, eye floaters). You'll get dumber (memory starts degrading by about 27). The list is endless. What can you do? Not much. It happens to us all.

                Date and time
                April 17, 2013, 1:13PM
                • Enjoyed reading reality, well done!

                  Date and time
                  April 17, 2013, 5:53PM
                  • Sage advice I wish my mum had read.
                    You've put my thoughts into words.

                    Date and time
                    April 17, 2013, 11:26PM
                    • Great article. I always appreciate other peoples view on bringing up children having four of my own. Just wanted to know others people view though on why the father cannot partake a similar role to the mother. Girls can be close to their dads, and my 10yo daughter, thankfully is closely bonded with me. Will this change in the coming years? I certainly hope not!

                      Date and time
                      April 18, 2013, 6:12AM

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