Understanding your teenager
If you are the parent of a teenager you may like many feel these years are the most difficult of all. You may feel less certain of your role. You may have all the concerns regarding alcohol, drugs, and sexual behavior and be unsure of what is appropriate in terms of discipline. Getting the balance without spoiling your relationship seems impossible. The girl or boy who was ‘your darling’ now shows little regard for you or your view dismissing you in a way that is hurtful and painful.
If you have younger children in your household who are witnessing these challenges to your authority you may also worry that they will be damaged with this attitude in the house.
If these difficulties express any of your feelings and reactions then read on.
The following is intended to offer a little understanding of the trials of teenage-hood for both the child and the parent.
Changes in Behaviour
The changes in the behavior and attitudes of your son or daughter may be difficult for you to understand and as a result difficult to cope with. If you can understand a little more of what is occurring at an emotional level for them and for you it will surely help you to respond more appropriately and thus more effectively.
For the teenager letting go of childhood with all its certainties is a painful business. Parents no longer can be looked on for all the answers. There are many areas of anxiety to which the teenager realises they must find their own answers. Their distress and difficulty with this task is often masked in casualness, ‘not caring about anything’. In truth the struggle is beneath what you see. One sad and struggling young fourteen year-old told me ‘ I realised at one point that my parents couldn’t get me through life, I was going to have to do it myself and it frightened me’.
This statement gives you an idea of the challenge the teenager is facing.
For this article I interviewed some teenagers. Their answers give us a closer view of those challenges and difficulties, which are implicit to the separation from parents. When asked what were / are the hardest parts of teenage years they responded….and I quote in their own words…
- First and second year in school was especially difficult because you go from being the oldest to the youngest in the school, and you often have to start with all new people. That’s not easy trying to make all new friends.
- The start of being interested in the opposite sex; not knowing how to read another’s interest in you; not being able to read the signals. You feel a bit of a fool.
- Knowing how to act and behave socially is really difficult at the beginning. You want to be cool and have status with your group of friends but it takes a while for everyone to be able to be himself or herself and have their own views and still be popular.
- Trying to establish your own popularity or status in your group is probably the biggest thing. Above all else you really want to be accepted by your friends and to be seen in a positive light.
So there is a very strong move toward their own peers, which we all see clearly in demands to ‘go out’ ‘go to discos ‘ ‘stay over’ but there is also anxiety about ‘fitting in’ ‘being popular’. Deep within them will also be the knowledge of what ‘you want for them’ and the values you have imparted to them. Finding the balance is quite a task for them.
What use is your input.
When asked how home and parents can help they responded.
- Having people to talk to is really important. Being able to get an opinion or another point of view without pressure or judgment is really helpful in thinking something out. Parents can really help with this.
- Knowing that whatever happens outside home that home will be steady and stable.
- Having no issues of status or popularity at home.
- Showing or presenting alternatives in managing an issue or responding to something.
- So providing a forum at home for discussion, which is open, is important. Try not to take black and white stands on all issues. Try to probe through all the angles and perspectives.
Show the teenager that you can be reasonable. If you cannot be relied on to be reasonable and to be willing to negotiate on issues then your teenager will deceive you. They will not tell you anything of their lives and in many ways you will lose all influence over them, as you will no longer have any credibility for them.
Help your teenager to find their solutions.
The core change for the teenager is the separation from the parents and the placing of themselves in the context of their friends and the world as sexual human beings. This separating is occurring against the backdrop of their entire sexual awakening, which is confusing and exciting simultaneously.
Separating form the parents will have its difficulties for you too at an emotional level.
When you find a new secretiveness and reserve in your child you can be sure that this process has begun. They will speak to you selectively about things confiding more in friends and appear to value their views more than yours. You may find it hard to ‘let go’ and to allow your child to separate from you.
What you have done until now seems no longer to be working. The way you reward or discipline appears to have no effect leaving you feeling somewhat helpless and out of control. The patterns of discipline, which have become well established within the family, may need altering. You may be defensive about these and rigidly adhere to them rather than looking at their relevance or fairness in the present situation.
So when things seem to be persistently going wrong the adjustment difficulties may be on your child’s side or yours. You must be prepared to look at both. Seeing how the other party contributes to a difficulty is often easy. Seeing how you yourself are contributing is less easy.
Teenagers make us see ourselves in a way which can be uncomfortable, our reactions to them can be emotionally charged too.
Try not to
- Judge their friends or to dismiss them
- Be so rigid in terms of discipline that they will see no point in asking your permission.
- Be so strict that their friends stop trying to include them in their group.
- Be less definite and black and white
- Be more open to their ideas
- Maintain talk and discussion, without judgment
- Give them some space to go from you and a warm accepting home to return to.
- Above all else accept and enjoy the adult they are becoming.
If the situation is too charged emotionally for you or you would like some individual advice contact us by phone or email with your queries.