In my recent posts we looked at the many ages and stages of adolescent development. Understanding these changes shows us why we tend to have so many problems in our relationships with teenagers.
- With fluctuating intense emotions, exploration of values, hormonal changes and new roles emerging as our teenagers grow into adulthood, it is no wonder our relationships have challenges.
Parents and caregivers of teenagers can be easily confused by multiple simultaneously-occurring changes. It is not unusual for parents have a difficult time adjusting. How could they be prepared for unknown situations that may happen with their teenagers? It is a time where parents question why their teenager suddenly is not listening any more and making decisions filled with risk.
Navigating the Teen Years
No parent would choose to damage their relationship with their teen during this critical phase of life; so, it is helpful to understand the developmental stages of your teenagers in order to raise awareness about what is normal. To maintain a healthy relationship, understanding these stages helps you and your teenager deal with the changes they are facing.
How do we normalize such a difficult set of circumstances? Rather than labeling, criticizing, showing disappointment or frustration, a better approach seeks to understand that what our teens are saying and doing is normal, naturally occurring and even healthy. In fact, an adolescent is doing his or her developmental job by asserting independence. It is a necessary phase of crossing the bridge into adulthood.
Steps to Take to Normalize Change
- Each teenager is unique, but the most important thing to remember is to adjust expectations. If we are aware of normal aspects of adolescent development and adjust our expectations accordingly, then we will be better able to cope with some of the erratic changes that will occur.
- Once expectations become consistent with what we know of normal developmental stages and behaviors, we can have better control of our reactions to behaviors that just do not make sense.
- It is also so important to realize that some dissonant or risk-taking behaviors are temporary. In other words, what seems defiant, resistant or disrespectful may rapidly change to a totally different emotion or state of mind. One moment your teenager may be intensely angry and the next, extremely sensitive. Being patient may allow this emotion to change to a point where meaningful discussion can take place.
- It is healthy to communicate with your teenager about what he or she is feeling about behaviors or emotions that are unexpected. Talking about life-transition gives him or her awareness about his or her own unpredictability. In fact, in our communication, we can establish a deeper level of support that can be reassuring and meaningful to growing the relationship. It is even appropriate to use humor by recalling some of the things we may have done as an adolescent and then laugh at ourselves as we encounter such issues in our teenagers’ lives. Humor is a language that most teenagers really understand and can identify with.
It is important to not exasperate your teenager by analyzing their behavior too intensely or by asking questions that neither of you can answer. The journey is difficult enough, and to be quite honest, most teenagers do not know exactly why they do some of the things they do. It is so much better to just discuss what went on and give them clarifying messages that will help them understand what you both are feeling.
Finally, I recommend parents and caregivers do not judge their own reactions too harshly. The changes that our teenagers go through are also changes that we are going through. Parents can experience a variety of emotions, including grief, loss and anger.
In order to navigate this phase of parenting, it will be important to be aware of your feelings as parents and discuss them with each other, peers or friends. Allowing others to help you as a parent can normalize your own emotions as you go through what is a very difficult time for you and your teenager. In so doing, you can continue to grow your relationship with your teenager in new and healthy ways.
Gerry Vassar, President & CEO, Lakeside Educational Network