Parenting is such a beautiful and blessed experience. We as parents have the opportunity to create, shape, and nurture a life, whether the child is biologically ours or not, it is the most amazing and life changing experience. What a miraculous time in our lives to have this new person who is ours that we are honored to care for, teach, train, spend quality time with, and be a role model for. Another little person who completely relies upon us and one we must take each moment to get to know. With each passing year the milestones become progressively more exciting and breathtaking. We can’t wait to see and experience what’s next. But what happens when the time has come and your child approaches the teenage years? Suddenly instead of dealing with dolls, trucks, trains, cartoons (well, possibly still cartoons), and the tooth fairy you find yourself faced with a child you may barely recognize.
Well perk up, it’s not all that bad, and in fact it’s quite natural. Sometimes we assume the worse about this eventful stage of life but in many cases these adolescent years aren’t so troubling. These are simply new times and uncharted territory for the child, parents, and the siblings as well. The main fluctuations you may notice are mood swings, your child becoming slightly more isolated, and their confidence may all of a sudden plummet. Keep in mind this is not only a difficult time for us parents to know how to best deal with these new occurrences but it’s much more troublesome for the child who doesn’t quite understand why these emotional changes are occurring. They may go from happy one minute to totally melancholy the next; and the huge amounts of pressure that they place on themselves to achieve perfection can only exacerbate the situation. My 14 year old daughter is remarkable in school and in her sport, her behavior is admirable, her zeal to work hard and supersede all of her goals is uncanny, and her grades and abilities reflect this. She is kind, helpful, and strong and she has also has come out of her shyness a bit and is socially adept. However she still tends to put unnecessary amounts of stress on herself. My expectations are great but hers are even greater.
As parents there are some things we can do to help our teens deal with the many unfamiliar changes they will face during this time in their lives:
1. First we have to learn to listen more. As the providers and nurturers we tend to feel we should always be the leaders of the conversation, giving advice, and sharing our experiences and views versus just taking the stance of being attentive and truly taking in what our children are trying to communicate to us. Simply listening and being present is a huge step in bridging the communication gap, and lets your child know instantly that you care.
2. Being empathetic is key. Once you’ve listened to them and understand as best as possible what they are dealing with whether it be heightening emotions, physical changes, school pressure, or dealing with friends, try to really put yourself in their shoes and wonder what that must feel like. Spend time empathizing and allowing them to vent. They need your trust and comfort at this time.
3. Respect boundaries. As parents we should have a decent amount of experience with setting boundaries. This is a must as kids need these guidelines to feel safe and to know what is expected. However we must now learn how to be on the opposite end and comprehend their boundaries. At times it’s as simple as sitting down and talking to your child about how we can help them when they are not in the best mood or feeling frazzled. Sometimes it’s as easy as allowing them the space and time to be alone. Many times they won’t have the energy or desire to discuss anything upsetting that may be going on in their lives, so just by you letting them know that you are here for them and they can come to you when they are ready relieves some of the tension. This way you aren’t forcing them to discuss something they clearly aren’t ready to communicate, such as that pop quiz they weren’t prepared for. Many times the anxious feelings will pass and they will realize the issue they were worried about really isn’t as huge as they thought it was. Providing them space assists in this natural thought process. Also we must realize that their will be some things that they may choose not to share with us. This is where we must trust our skills as parents and trust that they have truly absorbed what we have taught them.
4. Work with them on finding a solution. If your teenager has talked with you about what is plaguing them and wants help with a resolution be prepared with resources. Keep in mind that sometimes it may be something minor and other times it could be a more challenging problem but either way they will look to us for assistance and guidance, so we must be ready to work through things with them. Choices by Scholastic is a magazine/online resource for teens, and covers a multitude of topics that are relevant to this age group. Take a look at it together; along with the vast amount of information both parent and child should relish in the fact that so many others are dealing with these same emotions and struggles. Making the child a part of the problem solving process is very advantageous as you are also teaching them coping and resolution skills. As much as we want to be the superhero parent and save the day, we must also allow our youth to be a part of saving their own day by granting them the tools to do so. We must play an integral part in the problem solving by helping them to see the issue at hand, while encouraging them to look at it from various angles to be able to arrive at the best solutions.
Parenting teenagers can be quite challenging and sometimes you just have to breathe and realize it’s a natural part of growing up. Take time away, speak with friends, and develop a network of other teen parents and resources if necessary. Just remember this experience is enriching and you can definitely feel that sense of joy and accomplishment in watching your little one develop into a responsible, smart, thoughtful, independent, and courageous adolescent.