What it Takes to Raise a Teenager
The teenage years can be hard on everyone. The young person is going through so many changes to their body and their psyche; they’re discovering who they are and what they aspire to in life. Hormones are coursing through their veins, bringing on mood swings, irritability and confusion. They question and challenge almost everything — most especially authority; they’re resistant at best, defiant at worst, and their favorite mannerism, quite often, is eye-rolling.
For parents, the teen years bring a myriad of challenges. Developmentally, teens are immersed in the stage of separation and individuation: learning to become young adults with their own hopes and dreams, thoughts and feelings and especially, their own identity.
They’re driven to engage in behaviours that are off-putting to their parents, if not downright repellent, as an unconscious mechanism to push away the people who might otherwise hold them back from evolving into their true selves.
Good parents want the best for their teens and want to bring out the best in them but in this day and age, with so many conflicting opinions going around about how to nurture our older children, parents are often left as confused as their teens over how best to love, value and protect these young people.
Often, parents go to one extreme — lenience and over-indulgence; spoiling and enabling, or to the other — bubble-wrapping their kids; hovering over them incessantly, not letting them do anything on their own for fear that their teenager will get hurt or make a mistake.
Like in any relationship, balance is key. Teens, like all kids, need to feel cherished and safe. But more than any other kids, it’s essential that they feel acknowledged, respected, understood and supported in their autonomy.
Letting teens do whatever they want without guidance or limits is a sure recipe for disaster, especially when we’re dealing with youth whose surging hormones are upping their quotient of impulsiveness and risk-taking behaviour.
On the other hand, severely restricting a teen’s activities or associations is likely to cause a backlash of obvious or subtle acting out, or it can create a young person who’s tormented by inner conflicts.
Parents need to walk that fine line between allowing their teens to fail and make mistakes, so that they can learn from these experiences, and keeping them from being self-destructive or self-defeating. It’s important that teens see that their actions have consequences and learn from their own experiences what works for them and what doesn’t work.
The parents’ role is to make sure that the consequences to their teen aren’t so severe that there’s no coming back.
Parents have to realize that the teen is a person in her own right. She won’t necessarily share the same goals, dreams or lifestyle choices as her parents. The parents might be Conservative and Christian; the teen might be Liberal and Wiccan. Parents shouldn’t judge their teen for being different; they must respect her choice to be who she wants to be, or at least allow their teen to explore the options.
The parents’ role isn’t to tell their teen which career path to follow or lifestyle to choose, but to help him in thinking through his choices so that they’re the best ones he can make. The parents’ role is to keep their teen safe by making sure he really gets to know the people he’s hanging out with or dating, so that they’re reassured that the people he’s spending time with care about him and want the best for him.
Parents need to help their teen to think through their goals and aspirations and support their teen in pursuing the various avenues that are the most positive and appropriate for them. It’s about mentoring more than controlling; guiding rather than coercing.
Loving, valuing and protecting our teenager isn’t about giving them so much rope that they can tie themselves up into knots; nor is it about smothering them so much that their creativity, ingenuity and passions are extinguished. It’s about having a non-judgemental attitude and encouraging our teen to explore the things that matter to them, while ensuring that the teen makes well-thought-out choices.
Ensuring the teen’s safety has more to do with keeping an eye on the activities and people that the teen is involved with and less to do with issues of identity, goals or lifestyle choices. With unconditional love, clear expectations and appropriate guidance from their parents, a teen can develop into a happy, healthy successful adult. It’s not easy to be the parent of a teen, but ultimately, it can be tremendously rewarding.
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