The Teen Scene
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The adolescent years bring change at a pace not experienced since infancy. Physical, cognitive and psychosocial changes all come together to fuel rapid development. Understanding what is happening for your teenager on a developmental level allows parents to respond in a way that encourages mastery of essential life skills. This school year may present you and your teen with the following tasks.
1. Gaining emotional independence and autonomy from parents and other adults. This is the task people associate with rebellion. Rebellion serves a purpose; it helps create emotional distance allowing teenagers to “try on” new values. For a younger child, parents are the center of their world. As a teenager experiences a need to individuate, he needs emotional distance. But it is difficult to stand completely alone, so teens look to belong and associate with a peer group.
Your teen may question your authority and become more argumentative. You may feel he is constantly pushing the boundaries established for his behavior. Teens also start to interact with parents on a more adult level, being curious about your life, asking about your adolescence. They begin to view parents as people with both good and bad qualities.
What can parents do? Allow teens input into rules and consequences. The “Let’s make a deal” approach allows compromise to become a major component of parenting. What is a reasonable curfew? What happens if they’re late? Teens should be given increasing independence but not enough to put them in harm’s way. Continue to provide structure and expectations. Teens are becoming adults, but they aren’t there yet.
Despite their protests, adolescents rely on parents to set parameters and boundaries. Structure gives them a feeling a safety and reassurance.
2. Establishing emotionally intimate relationships. Teens begin to spend more time with friends. They may ask if a friend or romantic interest can attend a family gathering or outing. When at home, they spend much of their time on the phone or computer conversing with peers.
What can parents do? Emotional intimacy is achieved when people are honest and open with each other, establishing trust and mutual caring. This is first established in same-gender friendships and later applied to romantic relationships. Sex doesn’t prove anything about a relationship. Talk to your teen about emotional intimacy vs. sex. To be interested in sex is normal; however, it’s what you do that counts! Sex has adult consequences including the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Get to know your teen’s friends. Invite them to your home and make them feel welcome. Keep track of who is in the larger social circle. Meet friends’ parents and chat about what is happening in the teens’ lives.
3. Becoming more comfortable with their bodies. The “ideal” body as defined by pop culture is everywhere for teens to study and compare themselves to. Few body types match the cultural ideal, so adolescents are faced with how to accept, value and nourish their body in its “imperfect” state. Your teen may show increased self-consciousness about clothing, hairstyle and how she looks. Small imperfections such as a pimple or the “wrong” style pants can cause major meltdowns. Unwillingness to show her body (refusal to wear a bathing suit at the beach) and showing too much (too short shorts, tight fitting shirt) are behaviors of a teen dealing with body image.
What can parents do? Be aware that body image concerns girls and boys. Encourage healthy nutrition and exercise. Give praise for efforts and accomplishments unrelated to body size, weight or looks. Respect their privacy. Allow locked bathroom doors and knock before entering their bedrooms. Monitor choice of clothing and set boundaries when needed.
You try to find a couple of things you can enjoy doing with your teens, hang on, and marvel at the amazing transformation they are going through on their way to adulthood.
Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Write to them in care of firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being. To comment on this article, write to email@example.com.