The Teen Years Begin
No one warns you about parenting. Not when you hold your child for the first time, not when they transform from children who loved playing on the swing to young adults while still officially children. I think parents just want to bear the cross and then get used to it, or think of it as a phase. Having a teen in the house is akin to being on an emotional roller coaster. The teen is besieged by hormones, surrounded by other teens who too are experiencing new and ambiguous feelings. As a parent, one is usually taken aback and finds oneself fumbling and flummoxed, sometimes more than the first day at the hospital when a new person entered their lives.
The first thought that comes to mind is “How could she/he do this?”. “Why are they lying to me.” “ Why the concealment?”. Children who were content with frills or old pajamas are now over-dressed to the point of setting the parental dress code alarm on high alert. “I must have goofed up, big time!”. “It must be all the hours I was at the office”, the mother bemoans. “It must be the helicopter parenting”, worries the stay-at-home mum.
Of course, this socialisation with peers and distancing from parent and authority figures, is part of the strides your teen is taking from childhood to adulthood. If you come down on them heavily, don’t be surprised if your child behaves like one even as an adult. Go too light on them then your teen might end up making one or more regrettable errors that they wish you had stopped when they become adults.
Walking the Tightrope
So the conundrum of maintaining balance between freedom and discipline without being shut out by your teen is very important. This balance is difficult to achieve and will make you feel like a newbie wanting to learn how to achieve the zen state. While it may seem that all they want is you to back off, you can’t and mustn’t. This is the time, your child’s behaviour sets your teeth on edge and frustrates you completely.
And yet, this is the time your child needs your unconditional love and support. This is the time both of you need to adjust to the changing light and renegotiate the terms of your relationship.
Ask for Help
Like as much you would, you cannot hand hold your child everywhere. If your child is any kind of danger though, ensure you seek the help of other adults at the school, at home or in the neighbourhood. If you are the primary caregiver, rope in the other parent as well. Both your teen and you will benefit from the intervention. Be prepared to receive feedback and how you must change to help your teen through the quick pace of changes they are facing.
If you suspect your teen is depressed or has low self-esteem, turn to a therapist for help. There is no shame in seeking help. Therapists are helpful in providing strategies to both teen and parents on how to handle the variability in emotions and feelings. Teens are sometimes overwhelmed with the changes in their body and the feelings they are going through for the first time.
Consider carefully, the age at which you would like your teen to start using a mobile phone. The use of social media is widespread amongst teens and sometimes might be too much for your teen. If you find your teen is falling back on their deadlines or is too absorbed on the phone, you might have to help them unhook through abstinence for a short or longer period. If you decide to let them use social media, make sure they know the do’s and don’ts of being online. For example, let them know they must not share details of their identity, home or digital passwords with anyone. Ensure repeated discussions about the same. Today online safety is a very big concern and your teen must be made aware of them for their own well-being.
Setting the Code
If you find your teen lying make sure that there are consequences. Call them out, even at the risk of earning their unadulterated hate. In time they will see how lying can be corrosive for them. Till then, be alright with them throwing darts on your picture.
While it may be a stretch, do try and put yourself in your teen’s shoes. Try to see the pressures of teen-hood as they do. In other words, empathise however tough as it may be. But by doing so, you will understand a little bit about the currents under the seemingly quiet waters. Keep reassuring your teen that they are loved and that they have a loving family.
Discuss, Don't Judge
Teens can be very prickly if you talk about their friends. So rather than talking about them, have a chat about the goings-on of the day. Raise questions, so that the teen may contemplate and not simply work out of misguided sense of loyalty. The power of friendship, particularly friends who may not put your teen’s best interest at heart is very powerful.
Remember, the friend is a teen too. So to expect them to behave responsibly at all times when all they want to do is have fun, sometimes without realising that may hurt themselves or others might be unrealistic. Talk to your teen with genuine concern and remember the good times you had as a teen. Make sure you discuss some of your goof-ups so that your teen knows that everyone makes mistakes.
Discover Possible Future Area of Interests
This is also a time when your teen wants to explore. Harness this energy to explore where they would like to see themselves as adults. Do they love design? Take them for workshops, and get them to read, chat and discuss design. In doing so they get a peek into adult spaces and expand their circle to teens with shared interests. The magic teens can unleash when they get creative or dive into a subject has to be seen to be believed.
Exercise, Hygiene and Sleep
Encourage physical activities they may like. This could be swimming, running, wave boarding, tennis or badminton. Intellectual activities like art, dance and music are also fantastic for them to express themselves and give form to emotions. Make sure they get 8 or more hours of sleep since their brains are in a fast forward mode of neurological development. Teens tend to be forgetful and not too keen on personal hygiene. Make sure they are, despite any emotional wars you may be fighting with them.
Avenues for Expression
Journaling is also a great way for teens to release the frustrations of the day. In time, they will look at their thoughts and make course corrections where necessary or seek your counsel. Art teachers recommend that teens try making vision boards to gather their thoughts and look for direction.
Keep your Mind Open
But always keep your eyes open for any erratic or high variability in behaviour. Sometimes, they are too proud to tell you what is bothering them, but they are communicating nevertheless and it is for you as a parent to see the pattern disruptions and address them in an appropriate manner.
Get a life of your own. Does your teen have emotional teething issues? Yes. Is their journey momentous? Yes. Do you have a seat right next to them? No. So make sure you pursue your interests, meet or rely on friends who understand you and continue to see your child more as a friend and less as an infant.
As your teen departs from childhood towards adulthood, the wise words of sage and writer Neil Gaiman may provide for succor and strength.
I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.
The fact is no one gives a handbook to the highly customized model you have been given. There are no guidelines for the product updates but as a parent, you have been given the privilege to know this amazing creature and assist it as it continues onward on its journey of life. In the meantime, continue to find joy and meaning in yours.