by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
When we're little, we think our parents can do no wrong and we feel secure that they will always love us and take care of us no matter what. In an ideal childhood, worries and fears are few.
In modern society however, the perception of an idyllic childhood often doesn't last long,
When a sense of security is disrupted through disengagement, separation, death, divorce, trauma, financial problems, fighting... the child's innocence is shaken.
Teens are perceptive and idealistic. Here are a few things they might be thinking...
1. Are Mom and Dad fighting? It makes me want to avoid them and be somewhere else (especially if they're fighting about me, my grades, my behavior or whatever else I'm doing wrong.) It gives me a stomach ache to hear them screaming at each other.
2. Are they constantly nagging me? I want to fight back so they'll finally give up and leave me alone. I want to hide from them because they don't understand me and won't listen. Maybe I'll escape into substances or edgy behaviors.
3. They're ancient dinosaurs... too old fashioned, they don't understand my world. Can they have the slightest idea of what my world is like?
4. They're judgmental, I can't tell them the truth about how I feel. They'll tell me how wrong I am and how I need to change.
5. Mom and Dad are drinking a lot and telling me not to drink... what hypocrites. I can't trust them. They change when they've been drinking. It doesn't feel that safe.
6. They are always talking at me and telling me what to do.
I don't know if you remember when you were a teenager, but changing hormones, impulses and desires which need to be repressed, growth spurts, bodily changes, odors and discharges, acne, hair... can be alarming and stressful. Rapid and tumultuous changes are happening in the brain. The whole body and mind are undergoing a metamorphosis. It's good to remind yourself of this and exercise patience. Teens will stretch the limits of your patience beyond what you ever thought possible. Don't worry, they'll be fleeing the nest soon.
Teens are now established in concrete thought processes (hard to believe sometimes, right?), and have now realized that their parents are not God. Therefore teens may perceive that power and control in the family are up for grabs. Especially if other stressors are high in the family, or parents are perceived as mean, ineffectual or uncaring, a teen may challenge the decision-making and become aggressive or parentified.
The realization that parents cannot always fix things may also provoke fears and anxieties, especially if a traumatic situation has happened in your family. The child or teen realizes that Mom and Dad cannot always help me and keep me safe... some things seem out of control and that can be terrifying.
You've been working hard all his life, teaching him what he needs to know. Have confidence in yourself that you have done a good job, Be careful, the rest of it, he will learn from your example! It is your job now to facilitate integration of everything you have taught him into his personality.
It's important to look at factors in the adolescent's environment when deciding how to best improve behavior and coping.
Social and Educational pressure - Do I even need to mention how much pressure kids are under today? The type of competition and pressure experienced by teens is unprecedented. To help with this, engage in "listening moments" more than "teaching moments."
This helps him process his emotions and experiences, and stay motivated.
Acceptance and Positivity
Most importantly teens need to feel loved and accepted, not judged, pressured or criticized. This allows them the emotional space they need to determine and focus on activities that inspire them. Try not to provoke fear by telling them how difficult and treacherous the adult world is. This can be paralyzing to a young person. Try to give hopeful and positive messages to your teen on a consistent basis.
We have a lot of experience with these issues and are glad to help!
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Manhattan Beach, CA 90266