Trials of Teen-hood
“What happened to the sweet little kid I used to know and who is this alien taking his/her place?"
"Why can't they be more like we used to be at that age?"
"What am I doing wrong?"
These are the questions that often go through a parent's mind when they have a teenager in the house. The teenage years are probably the most difficult not only for the parents, but for the children as well. What is important for parents to understand and more importantly, accept is that it is perfectly normal and even healthy for teenagers to be stubborn, secretive and extremely temperamental. Teenagers are at a developmental stage where they are facing both physical and emotional changes and it is quite natural for them to have a need for more independence, more time with their friends, a need to try out different identities to see which one fits best, more privacy and a need for acceptance from their parents and their peers.
Teens however, are not the only ones going through major changes in their lives. Their parents are also reaching an age where they begin to feel like they are "getting old." Parents themselves may be going through physiological changes which makes them feel like they are losing control, and perhaps not putting in as much effort as they should into disciplining their children. So when these youngsters challenge their authority, they sometimes tend to overreact in an effort to establish control over the situation. In most cases, this backfires and results in creating a rift between parents and their teenagers.
With emotions running high and everyone in a stage of developmental metamorphosis, any form of communication seems impossible with these unapproachable aliens. Parents are at a loss as to how to talk to the kids they once knew and loved and more importantly how to get them to respond. The good news is, although it is difficult, it is not entirely impossible. If parents accept that once they reach their teenage years, their children will have limited communication with them, their lives will become much easier. Once they have come to terms with this fact, there are ways in which they can open up avenues for quality interaction, which will keep them updated on what is going on in their children's lives.
A few simple and effective methods of communication can be used in these cases, the most important of which is to be a good listener. It's a very rare occasion when a teenager will actually want to share something with their parents. When this happens, parents must recognise it as a valuable moment and make the best of it by giving the teen their undivided attention. Unless faced with a major distraction (earthquakes, fires, death threats etc), parents should drop whatever they are doing and try to listen, being as nonjudgmental as possible. The key is to listen rather than talk. If you don't like what your teen has to say, avoid lecturing, nagging and guilt trips and talk it out like you would with any adult. They will appreciate the respect.
It is very important for parents to respect their teen's privacy. If a teenager sees that his/her parents understand the need for secrets, a separate phone line, closed doors and alone time, they are more likely to share parts of their lives with their parents. It is very important to create an open environment for teens to talk about whatever is on their minds. No topic of conversation should be off limits. Parents should start talking openly and honestly with their children from a young age about sensitive topics such as sex, sexuality, drugs etc. If you are uncomfortable talking to them they will take their questions and concerns elsewhere. Being patient and honest without getting upset or being judgmental will pay off because they will be more willing to listen when you communicate your own values to them.
Giving teenagers their independence is a good way of showing them you trust their judgment. If the teen has had a healthy and happy childhood and parents are confident they have instilled the right values in them there is no reason not to give teens their autonomy. This way, when serious issues arise, they are more likely to come to you because you have given them permission to make their own mistakes and learn from them. They are also more likely to tell you what they have been up to if there is no need to go behind your back to have a social life.
Whether a teen wants to talk about his/her romantic relationships, trouble with schoolwork, problems with friends or about how upset they are with their parents about something, their parents should try to accept all their feelings as long as they are respectfully conveyed.
Parents must also recognise when they are wrong and apologise for their mistakes. This will establish a culture of mutual respect in the relationship. When speaking to teenagers, parents should make sure their comments are brief and to the point. Teens tend to have very little patience and are likely to get annoyed by a long drawn out conversation. If you want to talk about an unappealing topic such as their performance at school, you should schedule a separate time and let them know what you want to discuss instead of catching them off guard and jumping down their throats. The conversation will be more fruitful when they know what to expect. Try to focus on the positives, tell them what they have done right, before talking about their mistakes. Try to give constructive criticism instead of complaining about the long list of things you undoubtedly have in your mind of all their wrong doings.
If your teenager shares something private with you, you must refrain from revealing their secrets to others. He/she may not risk sharing intimate thoughts with you again. Another important method of communication is to keep the questioning down to a minimum. For example instead of saying “Why are you going out on school nights?” say “I noticed you have been going out a lot on school nights” the way you express yourself makes a world of difference in the response you will get and the amount of resistance you will meet.
Last but not least, try to set aside some time each week to spend in your teen's company. Don't nag them about giving you more time, but tell them you miss hanging out with them and ask them if they can somehow make some time in their busy schedules to do something you'll both enjoy. Let them decide what they want to do, whether it's shopping, watching a movie, playing a sport, eating out, or just playing board games while watching TV at home, just go along with it. Whether they show it or not, they miss spending time with you as well and will feel more comfortable about opening up to you if they see you making at effort to get to know them better.
Unfortunately there is no way to know exactly how a teenager's mind works. Every adolescent is different and has different needs. These are just a few basic guidelines parents can follow to make the journey from adolescence to adulthood a little bit easier.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010