The confrontational and rebellious nature of some adolescents’ behavior troubles their parents. Parents worry that the teenage actions may threaten the safety of their youngsters. Parents face the urge to protect their children from harm which often comes at the expense of the teen’s longing for individuality. As a result, parents often find themselves struggling to find ways to support their child during adolescence.
During adolescence, teens experience many changes that can be linked to their physical development. They find themselves gaining weight, growing taller, and developing secondary gender characteristics that range from first menstrual cycle for girls, voice change, penis growth and facial hair growth for boys, to pubic hair and acne which are common for both sexes. These physical changes lead teens to become overly sensitive about their weight and their bodily image. They may become concerned about whether or not they are physically developing at the same rate as their peers. The hormonal development also drives teens to ask questions about sexual activity, intimacy and safe sex.
Parents can help adolescents manage these transitions successfully by being knowledgeable and open about the changes and behaviors that are occurring. In order to help their self-conscious teens, parents should not criticize or compare their children to others of their age. Parents should be patient about their teens’ excessive grooming habits. Taking hours to get ready and obsessing about beauty products merely reflect an adolescent’s attempt to maintain control over their changing bodies. For a more positive self-image, parents should encourage and model healthy eating, sleeping and exercising habits to their teens.
Parents should provide their teens with honest answers about sex. Not doing so will lead teens to rely on friends or possibly inaccurate sources that are often to blame when teens make poor decisions. Parents should also understand their adolescent’s need for physical space. Instead of forcing their teens to hug or kiss relatives or family friends, parents should respect and communicate about their teen’s need to withdraw.
In addition to the physical changes, teenagers experience changes in the way they think and perceive themselves and the world around them. Adolescents show a high level of self-consciousness by believing that everyone around them is as concerned with their thoughts and behaviors as they are. Moreover, adolescents tend to believe that their emotions and feelings are unique and that no one else has experienced something similar. They tend to become dramatic about things that are bothering them and shun their parents away by saying phrases such as “No one understands me” or “My life is ruined”. Teens also tend to express personal belief in “it can’t happen to me” syndrome. As a result, adolescents find themselves engaging in unnecessary risky action such as drinking and driving, unprotected sex, and smoking because they believe that car accidents, getting pregnant, and having health problems are simply too farfetched.
In order for parents to understand what their teens are going through they should try to empathize and listen to the teen’s concerns. It is important for parents not to take it personally when teens recount their experiences. Young people have spent a big part of their age being listeners, so it is their time and chance to share their beliefs, feelings and experiences in the light of their own changing identity. Also, parents should make time to teach their teens about the joys and troubles of life and ways to deal with the good and bad times. Building a genuine relationship with teens can help them see that their parents were once teenagers who made their own mistakes.
Parents can also get involved in discussing their teen’s behavioral rules, responsibilities and consequences in order to enhance their advanced reasoning skills. By doing so, teens will be able to generate realistic consequences for their actions which in turn help keep them out of trouble. Moreover, parents should positively reinforce good behavior whenever applicable because it is more effective that punishing and criticizing behavior. Replacing words that belittle and hurt a teen’s self-esteem with understanding, compassion and communication helps preserve the parent-teen relationship.
Adolescence is a transition for both young people and their families. It is important to understand that it is normal and common for all teens to undergo such physical, cognitive and emotional changes and developments. Keeping an open mind and enhancing communication can help parents keep both their teen and their mutual relationship safe as they navigate through the adolescence crisis.