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Parents can do a great job of parenting when their children are younger and then struggle when their children hit the teen years. While the house rules may still be the same, the ways in which we encourage teens to make positive choices has to evolve.
What Happens in Adolescence?
From a developmental perspective, adolescence is the stage where young people learn the skills they are going to need to have a successful adult life. This includes things like building and developing deeper relationships with others, independence (both practical, emotional and financial), identifying core values and developing strong problem solving skills.
In addition to puberty and physical development, adolescence is also a significant time for brain development. The prefrontal cortex (which is the decision-making part of the brain) is being reshaped, with changes continuing on into the early 20’s. During this phase of development, the amygdala (which is the emotional and instinctive part of the brain) is used more often. Between greater emotionality and poor decision making it’s no wonder that adolescence can be a bumpy time.
Teens also face a lot more stress in their day to day lives. We all faced peer pressure to a degree when growing up. However this generation has non-stop peer pressure and media influences to deal with through their social use of technology. Uncertainty about the future world of work, the state of the planet and society are also there in the background.
Parent – Teen Relationships
With all this busy work going on in adolescence parents often find their parenting techniques changing. Expectations about behaviour don’t have to change but the goal in adolescence is to help the teen make better choices themselves. Fundamental to all of this is the need for a strong and positive relationship between child and parent. It’s from this relationship that a parent can encourage a positive and healthy transition into adulthood for their teen.
What does a positive relationship look like from a teen’s perspective? If I was to distil down all the feedback I’ve had from teens over the years it would look like this:
- My parents listen to me.
- They involve me in decisions that are going to affect me.
- They still show me that they love me but do it without embarrassing me (e.g. no hugs in front of peers).
- They get involved in the stuff that’s important to me (e.g. sports, hobbies and interests).
- They let me make my own choices about who my friends are but are there to help when I need advice.
- We have “rules” in the house and I know the consequences (even if I don’t like them) and
- They talk to me about the important stuff when I need them to (e.g. sex, drugs and depression).
There is a lot to do to help a teen work their way through adolescence. If I had to recommend a place to start, it’s listening. Listening (when it’s done properly) shows that parents are interested, that they care and are being thoughtful in their responses. Listening also helps parent develop greater insight into their teen’s needs, hopes and challenges.