A Yiddish proverb tersely captures a parent’s journey – “Small children disturb your sleep, big children, your life.” Parenting small children means dealing with grubby hands during meal times or having tiny feet following you around the house. Parenting big children means fewer meals together, excessive phone and screen time, missed curfews and arguments over their messy room. These are clear signs that your sweet and obedient child has blossomed into a teenager who, more often than not, will challenge your patience.
After “terrible twos”, the terrifying teen years are the next major phase a parent has to conquer. It can be tough for parents to accept things as they unravel. As teens assert their autonomy and control over their own lives, a parent’s fear intensifies. The worry that the decisions teenagers make will have a significant impact on their lives move parents to act out of fear. Conversely, fear stems from uncertainty, from not knowing the real situation and not knowing what will happen next. The best way to counter fear (and keep your sanity) is to know more about how to deal with teens.
What is exactly happening to a teenager?
Change is the prevailing theme in a teenager’s life. Most noticeable among these changes is physical transformation. The ebb and flow of hormones cause changes in height, body shape, skin, and voice. Additionally, these hormonal surges can cause teenagers to go through mood shifts. A teenager may feel ecstatic and excited at one time then surly and depressed the next. And since a teenager’s brain is also in the process of developing and re-wiring, it can be challenging for them to manage their emotions. Decision-making, planning, and self-control all happen at the prefrontal cortex, which is not yet fully developed in teens. These physiological changes explain teenagers’ impulsive attitude and propensity for risky behaviors.
A teenager is also at the cusp of discovering his or her own identity separate from their parent. This stage has been the source of most conflicts for parents and teens, as the desire to discover their own personality clashes with the parents’ reluctance to give up control.
Socially, teens are in the midst of the push and pull for the desire to stand out and yet blend in among their peers. Self-image is of paramount importance. They need to wear the latest fashions, own the latest gadget and be invited to parties, as these are the measurements of the image they set for themselves. Peer pressure is at its highest. Bullying is rampant, further worsened by technology and social media.
Clearly, teenagers are going through a lot. A parent can understand why a teen’s life can be an emotional rollercoaster.
Helping a Teenager Go Through the Turbulent Years
Having a parent who understands what they’re going through is crucial. So here are some of the ways to deal with teens as they go through these turbulent years.
1. Offer your guidance.
Structure is essential during the defining teenage years. Unfortunately, this usually conflicts with a teen’s rebellious demeanor. To make guidance and structure more appealing to them, the operative word is “offer”. Offer your help. Imposing your will only makes your teen shut down. This deprives a parent of the opportunity to impart the lessons needed for navigating life.
2. Provide options and allow autonomy.
The capacity of teenagers to decide for themselves should be developed during their teen years. This will allow them to grow into well-adjusted adults later in life. However, too much autonomy can also be damaging. A parent can help by creating a pool of feasible and practical choices. This creates a controlled environment where teens can still practice their independence.
3. Explain the consequences of their actions.
A teen’s capacity to think ahead and plan is not yet fully developed. Explaining the consequences of their actions will help teens look into the future and help avert making mistakes with long-term effects. Additionally, expounding on consequences helps teens get past the allure of immediate gratification.
4. Allow teens to have space and privacy.
The desire to be alone is another manifestation of a teen’s journey towards independence and self-reliance. When teenagers feel that their parents trust and respect them enough by giving them room and time to be on their own, it strengthens their self-confidence.
5. Love them unconditionally.
Underneath all efforts to guide and steer them in the right direction lies a parent’s unconditional love. It can be difficult to tap into this love when your teen engages in perilous behavior and acts disrespectfully. But you must! Whatever happens, don’t stop loving your teenager.
Dealing with teenagers can be both challenging and exciting. While a teenager goes through phases of self-discovery, parents also uncover strengths and other positive qualities as they go through this period (like patience!). We must remember that dealing with teenagers is just a phase, and whatever it is shall pass. What will remain is that the child, no matter what age, will always be your child.