How to understand and stay close to your child through the teenage years!
Yes, teenagers are famously moody and volatile. But who can blame them? With monumental changes affecting their bodies and brains, life is suddenly a lot more stressful than it used to be…
High levels of testosterone, estrogen and progesterone which act to change adolescent bodies, also play havoc with their feelings, meaning they may react with heightened emotions and anxiety in situations where adults can remain calm. Thanks to the hormone allopregnanolone, which moderates stress in children and adults, but does the opposite to adolescent brains, anything from homework to feeling left out at school can become intensely stressful.
Not only are they experiencing soaring stress levels, but they are also developing a growing appetite for reward, an appetite so strong that it can often outweigh any rational judgement, or strong advice telling them to stop! This is because teenage brains experience higher levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to experience, meaning the pursuit of excitement can be all-consuming. This is why teenagers can be seemingly irrational in taking risks, even with full knowledge of the danger involved.
These are also the years when, however painful it may be, your relationship realigns from a vertical one with the parent in charge, to a more horizontal, egalitarian one. Let the negotiations begin!
Making the Necessary Changes
This necessary change in the relationship can cause conflict as you and your teen navigate your different expectations around the timings in transitions of authority, autonomy and responsibilities.
None of these changes are bad, they’re essential steppingstones to independent adulthood. Your teen may break the rules or seem to push you away, but it’s undeniable that having you there for them through this tumultuous and exhilarating period can help them reach the other side as a positive, confident adult, who understands risks, relationships, and stress management a little better than their teenage self.
So what are the steps you can take to stay close, even while you may feel like you’re being pushed away?
With such a strong drive for reward, it’s inevitable that teens will make bad decisions from time to time. Helping your teen to take responsibility and learn from mistakes is one of the most important things a parent can do for their child. Taking a minute to explain how to weigh up pros and cons, pause before a leap of faith, and look at a situation from other viewpoints can help to ensure mistakes are not repeated, but first you need to give them the space to make their own, often good, but occasionally misguided choices.
Of course, giving your child free reign as soon as they hit adolescence wouldn’t work out well for anyone, but letting your teen take on some safe and age appropriate decisions will help them work through the essential process of decision making which will be valuable for the rest of their lives. You should still set boundaries, and draw red lines where needed, but being prepared to negotiate in some situations will show your teen you trust them to make their own choices and are listening to their reasoning.
Sometimes when things really go wrong you may want to take more extreme steps to force your child to take responsibility for their mistakes. However, research shows that when teens consider their parents’ disciplining to be too harsh, they’re more likely to act out or break the rules.
Try to keep calm and not make your child feel backed into corner. Teens have fragile egos and may react badly if they feel insulted or under attack. One method that can ensure accountability but not descend into a yelling match is to encourage your teen to see how they can repair a situation, whether it means apologising to a friend or saving up to replace something they have damaged. Help them to understand that taking action to make things better is a better option than wallowing in anger or guilt.
In a context where both positive and negative emotions are accepted by you and your teen, they are likely to feel less concerned about receiving a negative reaction from you, and therefore more inclined not to withhold information about for example their friends, activities or whereabouts.
Research shows that emotional variability in mother-child relationships during early adolescence can result in a more positive relationship over time, with teens feeling more autonomous, and more able to share their own views or details of their lives without fear of conflict. So while it may feel uncomfortable at first, having authentic conversations, and showing you’re able to move on from negative discussions in a constructive way, means you’re less likely to be shut out of the details of your teen’s life as they mature.
Friends are important…
While you may suddenly feel out in the cold as your son or daughter becomes inseparable from their friends, giving them the space to form these bonds, learn how to work at friendships, and understand when to be guided by their friends and when to say “no” is important.
According to research, teens tend less towards risky behaviour such as getting in the car with a dangerous driver or having unprotected sex, when they have supportive and trustworthy friends. Conversely, teens who have more tumultuous relationships with their friends are more likely to take such risks.
Encourage your child to work at friendships where they feel valued and say no to unequal or unsupportive peers. Show them through your own actions at home how to work at worthwhile relationships, resolve arguments, and apologise or compromise where necessary.
It’s also worth remembering that teens are far more affected by social anxiety than adults, so listening to issues which may seem unimportant to you and helping to find solutions will show your teen that you have respect them and their feelings. While you may suddenly feel like you’re on the fringes of their life, your guidance and support can still lie at the heart of their actions, having a strong positive effect.
…and so are you!
Studies show time and time again that close relationships between parents and their kids during the formative teenage years can lead to better self-esteem, mental health, life satisfaction, and even academic achievement, and that these benefits persist into adulthood. It also makes issues such as substance abuse less likely. Even just eating meals regularly with parents can have a strong influence on literacy and positive outcomes for your child in the long run.
So if you feel at the moment like you can’t do anything right, say anything right, or get out of the way quick enough, maybe stop and think how much you’re doing for your teen just by being there for them, talking to them with respect and authenticity, and showing them that while the path to adulthood can be a bumpy one, everything they are doing now, good and bad, is setting the stage for the adult they’ll become.
More from International School Parent
Find more articles like this here: www.internationalschoolparent.com/articles/
Want to write for us? If so, you can submit an article for consideration here: www.internationalschoolparent.submittable.com