Help! Our teenager is driving us mad!
Most parents want to help their children through all the stages of life — from young infant, to curious child, through to independent adult. It’s that latter stage — the teenage years — that many parents struggle with. Why is that and how can you navigate this testing time?
Some say that three parental stages exist:
1. There is a ‘directional stage’ when your children are very young and need leading.
2. There is a ‘collaborative stage’ when your children ask lots of questions and require rational answers and you try your best to give meaningful and helpful responses.
3. There is the ‘supportive stage’ when your children become teenagers.
Usually most caring parents cope with stages 1 & 2, but stage three tends to slide into a complex cocktail of confusion and angst. Many parents find it overwhelming and exhausting. So how can you ease this transitional teen phase and end up with your sanity and well-rounded adult offspring that still talk to you?
I am working with more and more teenage clients; helping them with their emotional issues. I am also working with many parents who find this an extremely testing time.
How the brain matures
In years gone by, in a simpler age people historically became adults at 21 years of age. Recent important work in the field of adolescent neurology (1) suggests there may have been some logic to this in that the brain is only fully developed, in most of us by that age.
The Limbic System facilities taking risks and the consequent thrill or rush element which can be simultaneously exciting, frightening, rebellious and empowering.
The Pre Frontal Cortex is the antidote to these conceivably ill disciplined urges emanating from the Limbic System, but its influence often comes in much later.
The Pre Frontal Cortex inhibits the risk taking — a bit like a sensible, wise and caring grandparent. The Pre Frontal Cortex is also involved in high level cognitive tasks like decision making and planning, including developing a structure or foundation which completes the transition from adolescence to adult and the process involved with eventually being a grounded grownup.
NOTE: Incidentally, teenagers also have surging hormones that do have an influence upon mood swings and behaviour, but the hormonal and neurological developments are separate; although if you’ve ever tried to reason with a distraught and apparently irrational teenage daughter or son it might be hard to detect the dividing line.
I’m afraid it gets worse …
The importance of a teenager’s ‘Social self’
As teenagers go through the essential process of self-discovery their sense of ‘Self’ is paramount and their sense of ‘Social Self’ is huge…
…What’s he doing? Who’s he doing it with? What music is she listening to? What clothes are they wearing? What phone have they got? Who are they blocking on Facebook? Are they all having sex? Do I look good / bad / fat / thin / tarty / fit / sexy? Am I clever or stupid? Will anyone ever fall in love with me?… and so on… and so on.
And there’s more…
There is often a gestalt effect upon most people when they are in a group.
When teenagers are in a group they really do push their risk taking to the limit; doing things they would never ever do when alone.
This exploration is all to do with your child’s very difficult mission of finding his or her ‘True Self’.
The present day ‘digital age’ demands that exist are inescapable. There is no respite from commercial and peer group pressures through one form of digital forum or another.
Because of the overwhelming outside influence of technology, however positively a parent is perceived and positioned in the eyes of their progeny they are rendered less important in the shaping of their children’s behavioural development at this crucial stage.
Most parents have honourably (deliberately or inadvertently) put forward their ideas about how they think their child should think, feel and behave. Usually this is at odds with the instinctive drive every young person has for autonomous self-identification.
Persistant parental direction of a teenager who is striving to become his or her own vision of a grounded adult will probably result in detrimental outcomes.
Within the parent / teenager dynamic annoyance and frustration occasionally leads to family conflict. Many things are said in the heat of the moment, which may not have been thought through and are painful and hurtful.
OFTEN WOUNDING WORDS UTTERED BY A PARENT TO A TEENAGER ARE FORGOTTEN BY THE PARENT, BUT LIVE WITH THE YOUNG PERSON FOREVER.
Many of my adult clients refer to extraordinarily painful memories relating to ill chosen cruel words said to them, by parents during their teenage years.
All of my clients, young and old go through a self-identification process during our work together. They become more fully aware of their ‘true self’, shaking off the ill-fitting facade of earlier environmental conditioning.
The lack of approriate support for an adolescent going through this self-learning process will almost certainly cause long-term psychological tension issues for the teenager and possible disharmony in the relationship between parent and offspring.
PARENTS DON’T NEED TO JUST LET IT HAPPEN; PARENTS CAN HELP THEIR CHILDREN.
Most parents are not trained therapists or experienced mentors and even if they understand the complex psychological, hormonal and neurological journey their teenager is on they are usually too close to their children emotionally to make an effective or meaningful connection.
I have helped young people, parents and family groups traverse this difficult, and yet crucial period of their lives.
This assistance is to do with creating a healthier platform for the young person to gain a personal contented balance in adult life.
- Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore