How a child's "Self" emerges. What parents need to know Part 3

The Adolescent

Adolescents. They almost look like adults and some of them do look grown up but need to finish the journey of development. One distinguishing hallmark of adolescence is the development of mature brain capacity to think on their own. Because a teenager has the capacity to think for themselves (technically known as “formal operations”) doesn’t mean they make wise choices. Like the toddler and child before them they are tremendously excited and curious about the new experiences before them. I’ve often said that teenagers would rather make a bad choice than no choice at all…because they can. Example of this might include wearing Bermuda shorts or no jacket when it’s 20 degrees outside. At more extreme levels, drinking underage, drug experimentation, and sexual exploration are choices teens make decisions about, often without understanding the consequences. The consequences of exploration in these areas may be more life altering but represent experimenting with the world as it lies before them much as at each former stage. Again, parent reaction to these processes plays a crucial role in maintaining a teens since of self. Just as at previous ages, parents need to allow exploration within limits but define boundaries, adult to teen. Parents need to keep an open dialogue about what and why boundaries exist and hold teens to the expectations you have for them. Teaching cause and effect thinking is important here. It’s important for parents to teach what they believe, why they want their child to deal with what they expect and to be real (not dramatic) about possible consequences for the child’s life. Listen to their concerns.

The following are keys to parent child interaction to allow the child’s self to emerge while helping the teen remain safe in their development.

1. Don’t over react to your teenager’s decision. Remain more calm and secure than they are capable of having a problem (as the parent you may need to walk away, talk to someone, generally pull yourself together before addressing a problem).
2. Don’t lecture on and on. State your feelings, needs, concern and then listen. If they don’t talk especially when the issue is significant and the problem difficult) wait, let them know that life will not go on until they begin to talk. One idea is to use the 60 seconds lecture – 30 seconds to stop and correct something, 30 seconds of believing in them beyond what they did or didn’t do that was significant.
3. Never shame or humiliate them in your hurt or anger about a problem. Believe in them beyond what they did or didn’t do. Let them clearly know that.
4. State your beliefs and expectations clearly to them. Don’t leave it completely up to peers and their own choices as to what to think or do in an area of concern. The more secure you are about your beliefs and expectations the more teens will be secure about following your wisdom.
5. Don’t simply tell a teenager “no”. View a television program with them rather than telling them to never watch a certain program. If they want to go to a concert don’t merely say, “Yes, go, I don’t care,” or “No, you can’t go”. Go with them. See what teens are exposed to. Talk with them about what you believe and why.

It’s a jungle out there for parents and teens. Parents, be the guide, help teenagers get through difficult times of exploring what’s next for them. Remain consistent in your love and concern. Express your compassion for them beyond whatever dilemma might exist in their life today.

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