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     Volume 5 Issue 96 | May 26, 2006 |

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Straight Talk

Living with Teenagers

Nadia Kabir Barb

Sometimes I wonder where the time has gone. It seemed like the other day that I was a first time parent, looking into the big brown eyes of my baby girl. She was the centre of our little world and we were hers. And then we were the proud parents of two more children and it was a wonderful feeling. My husband and I used to joke about how we would have to brace ourselves for the onslaught of not just one but the teenage years of all three of our children and it seems almost too quickly that our eldest daughter should now be stepping into her teens. We were thinking of holding her to the promise that we extracted from her at a slightly more tender age along the lines of, "I hereby solemnly swear never to turn into a bratty teenager" will be binding. Somehow I think that the promise is probably null and void as it was given by her without prior knowledge of the actual magnitude of the oath!

Adolescence is the time in our lives where we enter into a journey of self discovery and it is possibly the most confusing and intense phases that we ever go through. Everyone's recollection of their teens is in all probability different to anyone else's. But I am sure we all remember what it was like to be thirteen or fourteen where we found ourselves trapped in a seemingly unending limbo where you are forever oscillating between being a child and stepping that much closer to becoming an adult. Depending on the situation, we were either desperate to show that we were all grown up and could handle the freedom or responsibility and on the other hand if the need arose, attribute our misdemeanours to the fact that we were only kids! Although it is early days yet, but the only sign of adolescent behaviour in our household so far is the unrelenting sound of music coming from my daughter's room! Needless to say, I am more than happy to live with hours of 'Cold Play' and 'Hillary Duff' than extreme moodiness and tantrums accompanied by teenage angst.

During this transitional period, not only do you have to deal with physical changes, but you are also hostage to a variety of mood swings which can be partly attributable to raging hormones. No wonder it is called the awkward age where you have sudden growth spurts and some teens are all arms and legs and have no idea what to do with their coltish limbs! Growing up is a process that takes time and it is a stage where our children are trying to establish a sense of independence, test their limits, experience and explore new feelings. Puberty is never easy and as parents, it is imperative that we try and keep all channels of communication open so that when they have any concerns or queries, they can feel free enough to come and talk to us. Being very new to the game, I can only speculate that sometimes taking a delicate approach to handling kids may be better than being heavy handed especially at this age as teens tend to think that they are the best judge of their lives and any input by parents can be misconstrued as nagging or interfering. However, young people continue to need support and guidance from their parents as they grow into adulthood even if they would rather not admit it.

The other day I read about the youngest girl in the UK to get pregnant. She was 11 and the news horrified me. Being the mother of two girls, I think I feel the added onus of protecting them from realities such as this. Nowadays, Teens, at younger and younger ages, are getting themselves into situations where they are at risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, and adding their names to the ever growing list of statistics for underage pregnancy. It is a fact that many teens have tried smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, experimenting with drugs and had sexual encounters. Is it a wonder that we as parents are concerned, and even reluctant to give our children any form of freedom or to try and control the behaviour of our youngsters? But it is also not reasonable to tar all teenagers with the same brush. In all fairness there are many teens who are extremely level headed and sensible.

I think it is very difficult for all parents to come to the realisation that it is not possible to shelter and protect their children from the harsh realities of life but the best they can do is hope that they have been able to instil in them the ability to choose from right and wrong. Despite wanting to believe that our children will always remain innocent and oblivious to issues that are distasteful to parents such as drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancies or even internal issues such as eating disorders etc, we have to be realistic and help them understand the consequences and effects of certain types of behaviour or activities. It is also a time where rebelliousness is thought to be part and parcel of being a teenager and peer pressure is always a worry. But I think children with a strong self identity are able to make the right decision as they do not feel insecure about themselves and do not need the approval of their contemporaries especially if they have a supportive and loving family behind them.

It is a fact that by nature I am an over protective parent, I know that a lot of my daughter's friends walk to school alone or are allowed to go to the shops unaccompanied but I would rather keep my children safe than have to live with the consequences of any neglect or carelessness on my part. However, I am also aware of the fact that we do have to give our children some freedom to be able to grow as individuals. At some point one has to loosen the reins. In my opinion, if you respect your children then they will learn to respect themselves and when they are given that freedom they will be able to make the right decisions should the occasion arise.

The best we can do as parents is equip our children with knowledge and the underlying principals to distinguish right from wrong and I guess just have faith in them.

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