April 9, 2021
Adolescent children can pose great challenges to their parents in both positive and negative ways. As a matter of fact, developmental psychology informs us that the time of one’s life that is most stressful.
Ana Maria Dobre
International British School of Bucharest
Adolescent children can pose great challenges to their parents in both positive and negative ways. As a matter of fact, developmental psychology informs us that the time of one’s life that is most stressful is in fact the time when we parent teenage children.
The main reason for the perpetual conflictual state some families find themselves in, is the way natural developmental tasks conflict with parental beliefs about how a young person should act.
While adolescents struggle to find their identity and address their need for greater autonomy, defining one’s identity, self-worth, and enjoyment, parents usually stress the importance of high academic results and impeccable behaviour for their professional future.
While young people figure out how social relationships work outside the family, many parents set their personal expectations as the benchmark for them to have relationships, only allowing them to meet with people that match their set of values. Due to age and life experience difference, the values of the child and the values of the parent are often very different, and while everyone means well, everyone also makes mistakes.
To avoid ourselves becoming caught up in a whirlwind of conflict, groundings, and children lashing out, we need as adults to be aware of three important aspects.
Balance of Boundaries & Rules
All people need structure, to feel emotionally safe, but if the rules are too strict, too many or not clear enough, the teenager will tend to rebel against them in ways that can put them at risk.
Rules are for the entire family, not only for the children. If we have a rule that children are not allowed to insult anyone, we must respect that rule as well. Boundaries are important for both sides. If we want our children to respect our boundaries, then we must respect theirs also.
Boundaries that are too loose or not age-appropriate can determine disruptive, uncalculated risk-taking behaviours. Balance is the key-word here.
Be aware of the developmental tasks adolescents face and while guiding them, leave them enough space to become their own people.
Some of the teenage developmental tasks have been listed in the introduction to this article, but I strongly suggest that adults who have a duty of care towards adolescents read more about this topic here.
I can’t stress enough how important this one is. Make sure your teenager feels safe enough in their relationship with you so that if something bad happens, they trust you enough to tell you. Often teenagers that are afraid of their primary care adults’ reactions or ashamed to talk to the adults around them, hiding important things to the point where there is not much that can be done to prevent them.
Some of the things young people do can create extreme anxiety in parents, but it is very important to find meaningful, non-violent ways of communicating that will support finding solutions together rather than making things worse. Never let your anxiety or frustration override your calm.
Some young people don’t feel safe in their own homes, hurting their emotional well being and stability in the long term, just as much as families that have violent children are hurt. Not feeling safe at home, will often lead to serious anxiety problems and long term complex trauma. One does not need to abuse a child physically for this to happen. Verbal and emotional violence are just as hurtful and damaging.
The best thing a parent can do for their child is to be a safety net for them, so that the child knows that no matter the mistake they make, they have a safe relationship to turn to for advice, help, and support.