The focus here is on teenagers. From the moment of birth the child’s development is towards ever greater independence. A child gains a multitude of skills in the early years, during preparatory and primary school, and much is done for the child to prepare them for independence. But when a child enters his teens he or she must take responsibility, and further development depends on what they do, rather then what is done for them.
Recently, I witnessed a typical scene. I drew up at the traffic light alongside a car with mother and teenage son in it. She is ranting, hands gesticulating, clearly trying to drive home some important point. He is passive, staring glumly ahead. If there was a speech bubble above his head it would read, “I wish she would stop. I wish she would just stop.” I have been there. You have imparted all these wonderful values and now want evidence that your child has taken it all on board and is putting it into practice in his or her life. What is required here is patience. Patience, letting go and trusting.
The developmental task facing the teenager is to discover who they are and what they value as individuals separate from family and as members of a wider community. To do this they need to step back from their parents, whose reflection is often too close for comfort. Have you ever met a teenager who wanted to become just like his mother or father? Did you? Peer relationships become most important at this stage. It doesn’t really matter what you think of their appearance, it is all about gaining acceptance in the peer group, looking the part.
Which is not to say that the parent’s role is made redundant. Teenagers, above all, need to ‘find’ themselves, and while no one can do that for them, loving, watchful and supportive parents can provide a safe base which may ensure that they don’t lose themselves in this potentially confusing time. Drugs, sex, alcohol are just a few of several snares out there, and this is the hazardous territory they need to negotiate.
Working in schools enables me to have wonderful discussions with teenagers. Asking questions and having open discussions is far more useful than lecturing or moralising. These responses came from a group aged 14 to 16, and provide a good insight into how best to assist teenagers in these years.
Q: What are the challenges that face you at this stage of your life?
A: Having to figure out when it’s ok to have a boyfriend/girlfriend; coping with stress and increased workloads; adjusting to High school and body changes taking place; needing to make our own choices and learning from mistakes we make; accepting the answer may be NO when we really want to do something.
Q: How do you need your parents to help you at this stage?
A: We need their support without them getting involved; we need them to be there for us so we can discuss things with them, but also to understand that sometimes we need space; to understand that we are growing up and are unique and have our own opinions, and need to have the freedom to express them without it seeming to be rude, or back-chatting; to realise how important our friends are to us.
Q: What do you wish your parents would stop doing?
A: Treating us like little children; comparing us with siblings or their own childhood; judging us by past events; teasing and embarrassing us in public (using pet names, divulging confidences); nagging and lecturing; interrogating us (after parties); lashing out immediately when we have done something wrong and not stopping to give us time to explain.
Q: What issues do you wish you could discuss with your parents?
A: Peer pressure, boys/girls; what is really going on at school; exam stress. We wish we could debate issues openly, and have our views respected without it seeming we are attacking our parents view; we wish we could negotiate boundaries with them.
Q: What do you think your parents need from you?
A: To respect their decisions; thank them for what we have; to be trustworthy; to stop fighting with our siblings; to look after them when they are sick; to understand that they also have a life and need us to be responsible; to spare them the nagging and JUST DO IT; to give them our attention, listen to them and obey them and understand that NO is for a good reason. Be loyal to them. To bring out the best, give the best. Honour and Respect.