What’s going on? Just when you thought you pretty much had the hang of parenting, and were beginning to feeling reasonably comfortable and confident in nurturing, supporting and developing your children, they suddenly turn into teenagers.
Although every teenager is obviously unique and will handle the teenage years differently, it can become challenging for parents when their ‘predictable’ child suddenly turns into a moody, disengaged, unmotivated, impulsive, rebellious, illogical and unpredictable teenager. It’s important for parents to remember that this is a normal part of children’s development and not something ‘wrong’ with your child.
For teenagers, it is a time of huge physical, emotional, social and cognitive changes which can be very confusing and disorienting for them. Their brains are still developing and as such the logical rational parts are often overshadowed by the risk taking part that is necessary for their growth and development. However, they still need the support of their parents and adult mentors to help them navigate safely through the sometimes turbulent teenage years.
Here are 7 things that teenagers need as they begin to develop into mature adults.
1. Create and develop their own unique identity and the confidence to be themselves
Although teens will obviously already have a sense of themselves as part of their family, it can be challenging for them if they begin to develop a very different view of who they want to be and fear they may not be accepted by their family. Extreme fashion trends can often be a way for teenagers to differentiate themselves, and to experiment with who they want to be.
2. Become more independent from their parent’s and family influence.
An important way teens learn independence is to try new things even though these may be risky and they may fail. Mistakes are a critical part of brain development, and are the fastest way for teenagers to learn what works and what doesn’t for them. Important milestone like being able to drive a car, leave school and get a part-time job help them to develop their independence.
3. Find their ‘tribes’ to belong to.
It can be rewarding for teenagers to discover and become part of different groups of people who they can relate to, to develop activities or purposes in common, and to feel valued and accepted as part of the group. Often these groups can be quite different to the tribes they have been part of, and they make also reject some of these, particularly if they no longer feel connected to them or share their values and interests.
4. Develop relationships with friendship groups and the opposite sex.
Exploring their sexuality and developing close friendships with people who are similar and support them is an exciting and challenging time for teens. It can also be very confusing, and challenging to become aware of stereotypes, body image and how they are seen by others.
5. Explore their skills and interests to explore possible future career paths or job opportunities.
One of the reasons why it is good to ensure your children are exposed to a wide range of ideas, knowledge and experiences, is so when they become teenagers they have lots of options to explore and develop their capabilities, hobbies and interests.
6. Establish their own values and what’s important to them.
While teenagers will obviously still have the values which have been instilled in them during childhood, the teenage years are often the time when they begin to question these and develop their own values. Peer group pressure is also a strong influence on examining their beliefs and what’s important to them.
7. To feel safe, trusted, and connected to parents without being ‘smothered’.
While teenagers seek and explore independence and self-direction, they still need to feel loved, supported, encouraged and accepted by their parents and family. They don’t need you to let of all boundaries, or to smother them with rules and restrictions, but to somehow create a mutually accepted balance between the two.
What you can do as parents to support your teenager.
Despite the fact that at times it can feel as though you are charting into new and untested choppy waters, there are some key things you can do to support your teenager through their teen journey.
Make sure you keep the channels of communication open at all times, and focus on listening and trying to understand them, rather than telling them what to do.
Encourage them to talk to you about relationships and any challenges they might be experiencing, but also respect their right to privacy.
Negotiate new boundaries and behaviours that are acceptable to you both.
Give them enough space to take risks to try new things, but still provide a safety net if they need it.
Keep up with your teen’s interests and activities so you can communicate with them about things that are relevant and important to them.
Recognise that the family outings they used to love, may no longer interest them so try not to take it personally. Find some new activities that you may both be interested in participating in together.
Prepare your teen for their first real job by giving them chores and responsibilities to help them develop self – discipline, perseverance and resilience. A part-time job can also helps them to develop independence and learn appropriate work ethic and behaviours.