Teenagers, just the word is enough to strike fear and concern into many parents hearts. It’s a time when our children transition into adulthood and as parents we are forced to let go and trust that our children will make good choices and that the foundations that we have laid are solid enough for them to move safely on to adulthood.
I see a lot of teenagers and many of them are struggling with the transition from childhood to adulthood. Their bodies are changing, they are curious about the opposite sex, hormones are surging, they are negotiating relationships with friends and family, they have huge social pressures, online everything, they are trying to find themselves and work out what they want to be when they grow up! It’s a time when they are trying to work out who they are and find out where they fit in.
So firstly to understand what is happening for teenagers: a major process called differentiation is going on. This is an important developmental process that involves your teen working out who they are and how they are unique and special in the world. It’s a process that requires a lot of questioning, a lot of chewing things over and spitting out what does not fit into their view of themselves. It is a healthy process; it is just uncomfortable for all involved!
In order to work out who they are, your teen may need to create distance between themselves and your family, they are realizing that they not the same as you, they are working out their own values, beliefs and dreams and how they want to be in the world.
The process is painful for parents because it feels like you are losing your child and losing any control or influence in their life, they may start to reject everything about you and start to seek meaning from friends and media.
As parents it is important and helpful to look back to your own experience of being a teenager, what do you remember? What did you need from your parents? What were you looking for from friends? How did you differentiate yourself and make yourself unique, how did you become your own entity?
The paradox is that teenagers also need to belong and feel like they fit in, they also need to believe that they have some inherent value and that they can create a life of meaning and worth for themselves. So it feels like a constant process of push you away, need you closer. So what can you do?
So get clear about what you need from your teen- write it down and discuss it when everyone is calm and open to conversation. Have clear consequences and remind yourself that you are supporting them by setting boundaries and making them accountable- you are preparing them for the real world.