CRCT testing. SATs. Final exams. Finding a date to prom. Passing the driver’s test. Do I trust them? Do they like me? How do I look? My parents don’t get it…. My teachers won’t give me a break. Grades. AP Classes. Group Projects. Sports. Extracurricular activities. Parties. Dating. Sex? Fitting-in. Social media. Graduation. First job. College? Scholarships?? Future??? Choices, choices, choices.
…as an Adolescent Counselor, these are popular topics of conversation in my office. Sitting with the teens I am privileged to work with, I find that one word most correctly describes the adolescent years: STRESSFUL. Surely this is a good description when we consider how these changes and challenges are faced within a mere 7 years (from the first day of middle school to the last day of high school). Further, if these hard choices, and milestones above are not enough, many teens face additional difficulties. The death of a loved one, separating parents, a diagnosis of ADHD, and cyber-bullying are just a few examples of more “wrenches” commonly thrown into an already-demanding plate of new transitions.
All of these things and more line the path of the relatively short time, which exists between childhood and adulthood. Compounding these experiences and circumstances are very real biological changes: maturing physically and shifts in hormones that affect the way teens respond emotionally to their world of school, peers, friends, and families.
…Perhaps you are a parent and you are fully aware of this knowledge. You experience these changes and your teen’s reaction to them on a daily basis. You see the high’s and low’s of their anger, sadness, anxiety, and disappointment, and maybe you yourself have felt exhausted and even confused as to their behaviors…For this reason, I want to share 3 helpful reminders for parents – and other significant guardians- of teens:
1. You will experience push-back from your teen. (It’s not a question of “If?” but “When?” and “How?”…)
As the adult and authority, you will experience some push-back and rule-breaking during this time of their expanding independence. This is normal. It does not mean your son or daughter is bad, and it certainly does not mean that you are a bad parent as a result. Also, it does not entail that they are trying to hurt or disappoint you. Rather, this is to be expected as they “try on” independence and test the limits. Not only is this normal, it is healthy. It can be a sign that they are gaining confidence and autonomy, which is important as they move into adulthood. We should expect growing pains to naturally occur during this time, and along with this growth comes some normal emotional tension between child and parent.
2. Rules & discipline are important. How you implement them is just as important.
Just as teens are expected to test some boundaries, you are expected to implement rules in order to protect them and help them move towards positive goals. However, oftentimes fears can leave parents worried of what is enough in relation to parenting. Too little structure can be confusing for teens (who are still in need of stability) while too much protection can leave them socially and emotionally stunted. Further, when teens cross lines and break family rules, it is important that parents discipline their behavior – while treating their worth and value as a person the same. Regardless of what they do, teens need to know they are unconditionally loved, valued, and secure as your son and daughter. This means that despite your (certainly justified) frustrations with them, firm yet respectful and calm conversations with your teen are the most helpful and productive.
3. Their peers and friends may be their “world” but you are their Safe Place.
You may feel ignored and treated as if you were “annoying” or “a burden.” In fact, they may even voice this to you. This is, after all, an unfortunate side effect of the natural push-back, previously discussed. However, do not be fooled – they need you. And not just for the basic necessities. You are more than the person who pays for the data plan on their phone or drives them to soccer practice. Teens need to know that after their friends have betrayed them (which they will), their first boyfriend/girlfriend has broken their heart (which he or she will), and after feeling rejected by a certain group at school – that you will be there to love them regardless. You are the safe place of needed understanding, and knowing that you are on their side is essential towards their development of a secure and grounded sense of self. On a daily basis, ask how they are doing and how they are feeling. Even if they give a short reply, they notice that you care. You can never be a perfect parent; however, being a stable place where they can come to you and express emotions is invaluable in their journey towards adulthood.
Hopefully from these three points I’ve listed, the importance of your place in your teenager’s life has been highlighted. I feel privileged to walk alongside teens and their families as they face some of the ups and down of these difficult years together.
Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.