WHEN talking to parents of young children, the one thing I say over and over again is: “It’s the teenage years when they need you the most.”

Not that babies and toddlers aren’t demanding - of course they are, but not in the same way as teens.

As they move from childhood to adulthood, teenagers undergo changes in personality and behaviour that can be challenging to say the least.

Their moods - which can change from minute to minute - are hard to fathom, their worries run deep and their frustration can sometimes erupt out of nowhere.

You never know what they are thinking and sometimes you feel you don’t know your own children. It’s infuriating, confusing and often upsetting.

Parents also have to get used to their kids not only answering back, but coming up with answers that they can’t argue against.

Teens are tricky individuals. They are under pressure as never before - entering a time in their lives when things such as school work and exams take on a great significance.

They start going out, unsupervised, with friends, some may start dating, and they’ve got to survive the perils of social media, which can be difficult at any age, but particularly for a teen filled with insecurities.

It’s tricky for parents and carers. That’s why I can understand why a growing number of mums - it is almost always mothers - are taking so-called ‘teen-ternity leave’.

They are putting their careers on hold to help their older children navigate those difficult teenage years.

Last year Jo Whitfield, the chief executive of Co-op Food, took four months off work to help her two teenage sons study for their GCSEs and A-levels.

More recently Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison, announced she was leaving the BBC show to spend more time with her three children, aged 13, 11 and seven.

Raising a teen may not be as hands-on as raising an infant, but it is demanding in other ways.

A few years ago, my daughters’ secondary school held special evening classes run over several weeks to help parents raising teenagers. It offered expert advice on subjects such as communication, responsibilities, common teen problems and meeting teenagers’ emotional needs.

The latter is hard to address. Across the UK, particularly since lockdown, growing numbers of teens have been off school with anxiety and depression. For parents working full-time, it must be near-impossible to adequately address and offer support for such issues.

I took maternity leave - the first time for nine months, the second for six - when my daughters were babies. New parents, men or women, certainly need this break to learn the ropes. But, equally, time off with teens would benefit both parents and child.

I was lucky enough to work part-time when my children were growing up. I don’t know how I would have coped had that not been the case. I was around for much of the time to guide and help them, and for that I am grateful.

Being there for your children at any age is important, but the teens years are where it could make a real difference.

The reality is that few families can afford for one parent to give up work, even for a short period, to look after their older kids. It is worth noting also that the teenage years come with a bigger financial outlay than at any other age, so maintaining the family income during this period is vital.

Paid teen-ternity leave is never going to feature on the UK statute books any time soon. But were I prime minister, it would be introduced before you could say “Muuuum, where’s my trainers?"