Adolescence doesn’t discriminate between birth children, youth in foster care, or someone who was adopted. When it comes to adolescence, it simply does not matter how a young person came to join his family. The changing hormones and shifting attitudes that characterize this time of life affects all tweens and teens in similar ways. Not only do they experience a lot of physical changes during adolescence, they also experience a variety of social, emotional, and cognitive changes.
The increase in hormones that all tweens and teens experience as they go through puberty means that, more often than not, they begin to feel more self-conscious about everything, especially their image. Emotions tend to run high during adolescence and young people are more susceptible to making decisions based on how they are feeling or the influence from their peers. Tweens and teens rely heavily on their peers for information, guidance, and acceptance. As a result, they have a tendency to adjust what they do based on the reactions, opinions, and expectations of others.
Adolescence is also when young people begin to develop their sense of self and desire for independence. They want to explore different things that might help them to better fit in with certain peer groups, as well as to grow their own self-confidence. Very often teens and tweens do this through trial and error and testing boundaries to see how those around them will react. Sometimes their behavior will gain approval; other times the results won’t be quite as favorable. As they push and pull and learn about the positive and negative consequences of their actions, many tweens and teens will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Teens can often seem moody, defiant, irresponsible, indecisive, unpredictable, impulsive, stubborn, and a whole lot more! Many of these behaviors and attitudes are a very typical part of a child’s development. And yet, for parents, it’s often easy to misinterpret those irrational and non-compliant behaviors to be anything but typical.
You might find yourself feeling that the child you once knew is gone, replaced by a young adult who appears to want nothing to do with you or who will only listen if his friends are nowhere to be seen. You may even begin to feel like parenting a tween or teen is more difficult than you had anticipated. The teen years can sometimes mean more conflict between parent and child. (Your feelings get hurt and he feels as though you aren’t on his side.) You may face more frustrating and challenging days as a parent, but the behavior you may be seeing doesn’t and shouldn’t define the child who you love and care about.
The vast majority of tweens and teens are energetic and caring individuals who have a profound interest in what they think is fair and right. The tween and teen years are full of experiences and learning moments that are significant in shaping who they will become as adults. As a parent, the goal is to not give up; to continue to love them unconditionally; to keep believing in your child in order to see him transition to adulthood. Flexibility and adaptability can be two of the most beneficial tools in your parenting tool box.
In order to help with this mission, following are eight ideas for you to consider with your tween or teen. Perhaps some of these suggestions can help you feel more empowered as the parent of a tween or teen:
1. Agree on and establish reasonable household rules and limits by incorporating some of your tween or teen’s ideas and help her work within those boundaries. This will show her that you value her input and help encourage her to “get on board” with not only following the rules, but accepting the consequences of breaking them.
2. Put expectations in writing and display them in your home where they are visible and can be quickly referenced if needed. The use of visuals, such as a flowchart, can help with clearly identifying rules, consequences, chores, allowed activities, goals, etc.
3. Be specific and consistent. Explain things by breaking details down to the basics and asking your child if she has any questions. This will help you both determine if there is mutual understanding of whatever is being discussed.
4. Find a healthy balance between being firm and consistent, but also nurturing and loving towards your tweens and tweens. You can achieve this by demonstrating a willingness to be understanding and flexible, while maintaining structure and consistency in the home setting.
5. Give praise and encouragement often and consistently to help your tween or teen build up his self-confidence and self-esteem. He will learn to believe in himself and his abilities, if you show him how to exercise his potential in a positive way.
6. Model positive behavior. Help your tween or teen set realistic and attainable short-term and long-term goals for herself and teach her how to be independent through independent living and life skills training.
7. Be relatable and open to having personal conversations with your child, without forcing conversation if he is not ready. Speak with him at his level, using language he understands. This will help to create a comfortable environment that allows your child to feel safe enough to open up and be honest about what’s driving his behaviors.
8. When you feel like you are frustrated or overwhelmed, try to remember that what works for one child might not work for another. Be prepared for numerous periods of trial and error. When all else fails, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and try new things. Talking with other parents who have teenagers can provide you with additional ideas or approaches to situations that arise.
From the Spring 2015 edition of Partners newsletter, published by the Coalition for Children, Youth & Families. You can read the full issue on our website.