There is no doubt that parents of teenagers struggle to comprehend and adjust to the changes that their children experience during adolescence. A lot has been written about the subject and yet, informed parents still seem to find this period ever so challenging.
“How long do I nag for?” “I find myself repeating the same words day in, day out.” “They do not seem to understand that what I say is for their own good.” Sounds familiar?
As parents, we carry the responsibility to bring up our children with strong values, direction, skills that they need to grow up as independent individuals which at times works smoothly until they hit puberty. Then it all changes.
We start to get responses to our previous words of advice with shrugging of shoulders, banging of doors or, if we are lucky, some verbal response contradicting anything we say with phrases such as, “You don’t understand”, “Leave me alone”, “Do not interfere”. The child who once loved to share time with you, watching a movie, doing crafts, reading a book or simply going out for a meal no longer wants to be around you so much.
Although this is indeed difficult for many parents, the first thing we need to understand is that all this behaviour is normal, healthy and is expected during this period when they seek their own independence.
We have paved their way during childhood to allow this growth to happen. Their need for space is the beginning of their formation to reach independent adulthood, and we need to respect and understand this stage as much as possible.
So, when we feel that we are ‘losing’ our children, we need to sit back and reflect. Keeping up a relationship with our children must be our priority. They seem to act as if they do not need parents, but they still very much do. They will need us for advice and guidance, and we need to make sure that they remain comfortable to do so. How do we attain this?
“The first thing we need to understand is that all this behaviour is normal, healthy and is expected”
Watch your pattern of communication and discard it if it doesn’t work. For example, nagging constantly for your child to study and do chores may be alienating them from you. Instead, get interested in the games they play online, the music they listen to… enter their world.
Moods are common at this age and they can indeed experience very low moods if they have been hurt by a friend, excluded from a sleepover or party, or failed an exam. Sometimes we may tend to dismiss this pain and say things like “You’ll find other friends”, “You need to study harder”, etc. Instead, we need to sit down with them and empathise. Recognise their emotional state and just be present, even if you do not know what to say.
Try to rekindle fun things that you did together, such as shopping, outings or sports. Sometimes they yearn for our time but are unable to say it.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to prioritise what is important over what is urgent. Your child’s mental health and keeping a flow of open communication is of utmost importance, while the urgency to clear up their stuff or finish their schoolwork may need to take second place.
For more guidance on this subject, seek advice from your school counsellors or therapists who are readily available to help you.
Nicolette Camilleri is counsellor/treasurer of the Malta Association for the Counselling Profession (MACP).
If you’re interested in learning more about the counselling profession or would like additional information on mental health and self-care, visit www.macpmalta.org, www.facebook.com/CounsellingMaltaMACP or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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