Emotional roller-coasters, friends today - enemies tomorrow, pressure of studies, first and many crushes, alien changes in the body, the temptation to try the forbidden zones of adulthood, and above all, misunderstandings and fights with parents for all these - teenagers have seen it all.
Teenagers who share a cordial relationship with their parents are better able to cope with the high voltage drama of adolescence. In fact, the intensity of their problems seem too high and unnerving to those who lose a good bond with their parents during this transitional crisis. The extraordinarily high importance of friends develops in this phase to compensate for the damaged relationship with parents. Unfortunately, these new developments take them further away from their parents and it becomes a vicious cycle from which the teenagers find it impossible to come out of their own.
Why it happens
Why does this beautiful relationship between the parents and the kid start withering when kids reach adolescence in the first place? A careful analysis will help us understand how things transpire between parents and teenagers.
Teenagers are in a very delicate state of mind. They are not kids anymore and yet are not fully matured adults. They feel oscillating between childhood’s freedom and adulthood’s responsibilities. They face a severe identity crisis during this period as they lose their state of belongingness to either of the two categories. The new changes in their bodies make them very self conscious. They feel scared about this strange metamorphosis. They don’t know what may happen next. To make matter worse, this is generally the time when academic pressure rises exponentially too. They start thinking about their career plans. The very idea of being on their own very soon in future is very stressful. Coping with too many things at the same time gets difficult and they wish to confide and share with those who understand.
For parents, it’s not so easy either. Their 'babies' suddenly start talking about dating, fashion, alcohol, menstruation. They feel very awkward to sometimes even talk to their teenagers. Most parents tend to compare 'their times' with 'today’s times'. They compare the responsibilities they had when they were teenagers themselves with the freedom and opportunities they perceive kids have now. It leads to an unfair comparison, as times have changed a lot since then and there is no match between the opportunities, exposure, expectation, stress of the two eras. Their inability to relate with their teenagers propels the kids more towards peers, much away from family.
In many cases these days, with all the latest gadgets in the market that parents are not very familiar with but their children are, the latter starts thinking too high of themselves and too low of parents. Teenagers dating for the first time don’t want to discuss about this with their parents assuming that their parents, who probably never dated in their youth, wouldn’t know enough to share the excitement and/or guide properly.
What to do
Teenagers are already in turmoil. Almost everything is very alien to their system. On the other hands, parents have already been there, done that. So the onus lies more on parents to take the reins in their hands before things turn ugly. They need a very delicate, gentle, sensitive and most importantly, sensible approach of parenting, when it comes to teenagers. Here are some tips for parents of young adults:
- Talk... ( or at least try to) Open communication channels leads to better understanding. Describe situations, give information without criticism and long lectures. Coach them on budding sexuality, cautions, consequences at a level you both feel comfortable. State your own feelings from when you were a teenager yourself, and now when you are a parent without trying to make them feel bad.
- Invite them to give their point of view and encourage them to come up with their own solutions to a problem. Give them a chance to verbalise their wishes and fantasies. Try to empathise with what they say. Do not dismiss or ridicule their feelings. Keep prejudices aside and look at them with fresh perception.
- Establish clarity between their freedom and responsibility. Explain what is expected from them, what they can and cannot do. State expectations, values, freedom, and responsibilities clearly without sounding moral and bullying. Take care to neither overburden them with expectations nor pamper them too much like babies.
- Be a friend to them and understand their complexes - like poor self image, dieting, depression, anger - as a friend without making any judgment. Invite their friends over and get to know them better. Give them enough privacy though and do not become a voyeur parent.
- Encourage them to enrol into various activities to help them channelize their energy into a positive direction.
- Teenagers have a very high degree of curiosity. They want to learn by doing. Give them freedom to do healthy experiments like a new hair cut, change of wardrobe, adoption of new style and attitude. This reduces the urge to get into unhealthy experiments.
- Update yourself. Know what’s happening in the world of teens these days.
Parenting a teenager shouldn’t become power control issue in the house. The more in control teenagers feel, the less they try to bring control by any means. Once they feel that their parents are genuinely trying to understand them and their problems, they feel connected and want to do as parents say.
Written by Aanchal Agarwal, Aanchal is a psychotherapist and special educator and mother, based in Bangalore. She specializes in child development and learning disabilities.