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March 07th, 2016

Why are they so weird? Understanding Teenagers

Up until the 20th century, children entered adult society earlier and were surrounded by adults providing examples - they worked alongside adults. Now teenagers learn from their peers and the media as well as from adults. 

The notion of adolescence as a separate category only really emerged in the 1950’s when there evolved a separate culture of music and fashion. The period of adolescence has now been extended by prolonged economic dependence with children living at home often well into their twenties. 

Puberty is occurring earlier due to improvements in nutrition but there is some doubt that emotional maturity happens any earlier. Our kids look like adults which affects our expectations of their behaviour but in many ways they are still immature. On top of this there is much blurring of the lines between childhood and adulthood with our Peter Pan culture and love of all things youthful. 

Sometimes parents are really taken by surprise when their previously lovely child metamorphoses into an alien being, complete with strange language, belligerent attitude and risky behaviours. 

Why are they so weird?

So what causes this transformation? Hormones have always taken the rap of course but research in recent  years shows that the brain restructuring that happens in adolescence is also to blame. 

Teenagers’ brains go through changes which allow them to develop enhanced powers of perspective, criticism, abstract thought, hindsight and memory; these can create difficulties for them and affect their behaviour. They develop new awareness of existential aloneness and self-consciousness emerges. A dip in self-esteem is the norm and many teens experience depression. Adolescents go through many obvious physical changes during puberty and become tremendously self-conscious about their bodies. They are so aware of the changes that are so apparent that they assume everyone else is looking at them too. Parents can get frustrated with this apparent self-absorption. 

Teens develop a very strong desire to spend time with their peers, sometimes rejecting family in the process. Friends are very important to allow teenagers to sever links with family before finding the emotional nourishment of a mate. Over-dependence on peers can be a problem for teenagers who don’t feel sufficiently appreciated at home. It’s very easy for parents of teenagers to fall into habits of criticising as parents are nervous about teen behavior and choices. When teens feel appreciated at home they still adopt family values on important issues of health, safety, education, career etc. 

Teens take risks. Sometimes unhealthy risks. This is partly because the changes in their frontal lobes make it hard for them to evaluate risks. Much risk-taking behaviour takes place in the presence of their peers. The urge to fit in with or impress their peers makes it even harder to weigh the risk of the behavior they are contemplating. 

Teens argue. They need to as they work out who they are and what they believe in. 

It is the job of a teenager:

  • To take steps towards independence
  • To achieve clearer emotional separation from his family
  • To emerge as a separate independent person with his own identity and values and be able to think for himself
  • To be competent and responsible for his own needs, feelings and behaviours
  • To develop as a sexual being 

It is the job of a parent:

  • To support and affirm moves towards independence and the development of a sense of identity
  • To continue to provide values and boundaries
  • To expect responsible thinking, problem-solving and self-determination
  • To accept the teen’s feelings and opinions (this doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with them!)

Negotiating adolescence 

For a (relatively) smooth ride through adolescence parents need to:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. The onus is on the adult to make sure channels of communication remain open. It’s not enough to say my teen won’t talk to me.
  • Teens do listen when parents avoid criticising, nagging, judging, lecturing and advising. Ears open up when young people expect to hear positive things.
  • Teenagers need to be appreciated probably even more than younger children as their confidence takes a real hit at this time. Make sure praise is credible and meaningful. “I noticed that you’ve been setting your alarm clock to get yourself up a lot lately.” “I really admire the effort you’re putting in with your piano practice. It’s not easy to keep going with something when success isn’t instant.” “This is the third time this week you’ve remembered to lay out your clothes in the evening. Your organisational skills are really improving.” “You put your games things in the wash straightaway. That way they’ll be available when you need them next. You’re becoming much more responsible for your own things.”
  • When adults actively look for the good things in their teens they can see the humour, passion and intelligence of the emerging adult, and maybe occasionally some responsibility. Don’t miss it!
  • Always assume your teen is trying to get things right and will make mistakes. Give him the benefit of the doubt. He had a reason for doing what he did. (Although he may not know what it was.) It’s the parent’s job to look behind the aggravating/dangerous/inappropriate behaviour for a possible reason.
  • Parents need to provide boundaries even though teens don’t want them/think they need them. Empathise that that is a pain and that parents are mean control-freaks.
  • Empathise a lot. Understand how it feels to be them. Acknowledge that they feel stupid, fat, ugly, unpopular, frustrated, angry, disappointed, hurt, betrayed, misunderstood….etc.
  • Teens will talk, and even share problems, if they don’t get judged or yelled at. Of course parents shout when taken by surprise but as soon as they’ve calmed down they need to put judgment to one side and help your child to problem-solve. They need help from your mature brain. 

Good luck and enjoy your awesome adolescent.

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July 24th, 2010

Toxic Childhood - are your children affected?

Anyone read Sue Palmer’s book “Toxic Childhood” and started panicking that all the modern technology is having a hugely harmful effect on our children, not to mention ourselves?  I have only just started tweeting; blogging and facebooking and find myself fascinated about this social networking world and realise perhaps how easy it is to become addicted! As adults we hope we are able to exercise some form of self control, but how easy is that for our kids?

Is it little wonder therefore that Sue writes about  how the modern world is affecting how our children are growing up? 

A general deterioration in children’s learning and behaviour is being reported throughout the world, and Sue Palmer, a leading authority on literacy, looks through all the different reasons for this and shows how they are connected, rather than focussing on or blaming any one particular issue. She suggests there is a fundamental clash between “our technology driven culture and our biological heritage” because children still develop and mature at “human speed” whereas the world around them moves at “electric speed”.

What does this mean for us as parents? It means we need to be really clear about our values and the importance of good nutrition, adequate sleep, plenty of opportunities to play, quality childcare and ensuring good forms of communication. We need a good toolkit of skills to achieve all this!

Can you detoxify your life? Look out for The Parent Practice course on Children’s use of TV, internet and electronic games  – Keeping Children Safe and Healthy – click here for more details.

Toxic Childhood

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