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Raising a teenager can be baffling. Fueled by hormones, and confused by change – your teen needs you more than ever. Here are nine ways to make the teenage roller-coaster ride an enjoyable one.
I am a deer caught in the headlight of a super fast, menacing train. At least that is what it feels like when my nearly teen boys explode. Nothing prepares you for the tantrums, rebellion, and sometimes, the isolation. I have licked the Developmental Psychology books clean, taught about Adolescence being the ‘Storm and Stress’ period to a class full of nodding undergraduates, and doled out advice to parents wound up a twist more than a rubber band on the verge of giving in. But now that the adorable boys have their voice cracking and the calm disposition crumbling, I am standing on unsure grounds – forever shaking and throwing me off balance. On most days they seem like ruthless tyrants hiding in adolescent bodies. The only person who escapes the turmoil is the man behind the newspaper, and the dogs.
I try to stay connected, to keep up with the changes, and most importantly to maintain a state of peace – no matter how temporary. I share today with you, the stuff that has so far worked for us:
They need to be free, just as we do. For example, we have a rule that there will always be a sport in their lives but they get to choose which one. I call it the selective independence, which simply means that they get to choose within some amount of basic framework laid by the parent. Honestly, I find it more practical than putting them away in the dungeon of absolute parental command, or the other extreme – insane freedom.
Boundaries are comforting. Studies have revealed that children who grow up in moderately controlled environments with certain ground rules are less stressed and better adjusted. The Do’s and don’ts when implemented in reasonable limits offer a sense of security and order.
Not in the lunch box! A teen with a love note from mum sticking out of the bag is a notch worse than school trousers with a malfunctioned zipper. We have these soft boards in their rooms. Recently, the younger one entered senior school with the new academic year. He was apprehensive. I left a note pinned saying – ‘Dude, sixth grade is tough but doable. You know where to head when and if trouble finds you.’ The note is still pinned.
As a parent, we feel it is our duty to dole out free advice. Sometimes it gets difficult for me to resist. But we have to try. The moment we tell them, ‘Thou shalt/shalt not….’ we are telling them that they are incapable of working out a solution. If giving advice is unavoidable, it has to be arrived at by the child through discussion with you. And never ever dismiss his or her problems saying that this is ridiculous or not a ‘big deal.’ It is a big deal for them when their partner pushes them off the table, or when they witness a fight between two boys. Listen. Do not dismiss or get moral about it.
Last week the boys went to a Children’s Home with me for a story-telling session. They did not need to go. But they went happily since the entire session had been discussed with them, their opinions taken seriously and their jobs assigned. They were a great help! I told them exactly that, in very precise words. Ambiguous statements like, ‘Good job!’ do not really hit home. A better way of putting it would be, ‘I truly appreciate your help in the craft session today. You were very patient with the younger lot.’ The idea is to be specific and to acknowledge the good things much more than the undesirable.
I try to give them as many varied experiences as possible. The point is not to add to their resume but to help them get in touch with themselves. A pop-up card-making workshop led to the younger one getting interested in paper crafts. If you find a flapping bird made out of tissue paper at a restaurant, you are probably at our table. Doing things for the sheer pleasure of experiencing something new has helped us find common grounds. Not everything is supposed to have academic relevance – some just build character, and moments.
There are times when seeing eye to eye becomes impossible for us. That is when the journal comes in handy. We write about our actions, words, apologies, love, and even that awesome book we picked, to each other. Written dialogue has opened a stronger communication channel for us than the eye-rolling, shrugging, and high-pitched arguments that some situations warrant. We do try to be text-bookishly calm and civil – and we fail. A lot.
Accusing the child of shutting you out of his life will not solve much. Go for a solitary lunch or outing of his choice. Talk about your day, ask about non-controversial stuff from the child’s life, and hold a conversation about the superheroes if you have to, to reach common grounds. Not a moral lecture. Not an interrogation. Just plain talk.
I am struggling with this one. When either of the boys stomps out of the room declaring “Life is unfair. You do not understand,” I mostly want to whack the senses back into their sorry heads, and show them what an unfair life truly means. I am learning to not take it personally. It is not about me. It does not reflect me as a parent. It reflects them – the teenage cocktail of hormones, feelings, turmoil, stress, and a dash of immaturity. Anger begets anger. I try the following:
Each child is different. This is especially true for the teenagers. So, some things might work for you, and some might not. The idea is to remember that we were teenagers too. We gave our folks grief too. Our parents are too much in love with us to remember the trouble that we were. In a few years we will be there too – telling our grandkids how wonderful their parents were as children, and giving puzzled, dismissive looks to our children when they remind us that they were nasty teenagers.
I am banking on that.
Pic credit: Gem fountain (used under a CC license)
Dr. Tanu Shree Singh is a parent to two preteen boys, a lecturer in Psychology,
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