Understanding your teenage child

By the time he was fourteen. Akbar had led his troops to victory and become emperor. Romeo and Juliet were fourteen years old when they became one of the most enduring symbols of romance.

Through most of history, teenagers of both sexes have been considered and treated as adults. At the age when your daughter is contemplating the latest shade of lipstick to hit the market, her great grand-mother was probably already a mother.

It is only in present times that we consider the teenager to be still a child or at most a young adult. Tremendous physiological and psychological changes are taking place in the child but the teen is still dependent upon his parents and subject to their rules. No wonder this child- adult is confused and confusing!

During puberty, hormonal changes transform a child into a physiologcial adult. Society at large in sympathetic to the hormonal driven mood swings of pregnant and pre-menopausal women. What the teenager is undergoing is, in some respects, even worse because he himself does not fully understand what is happening to his body.

In addition puberty signifies a mental break from childhood as well. No longer is security and parental closeness the primary need – the fledging is making the first tottering attempts to leave the nest.

As a parent, your influence on the personality of an infant and toddler is tremendous. By the teen years however, the foundations are fully laid. This is the time when the teenager discovers himself – who he is as separate from the parental identity. His attempts at independence are confounded by economic and social pressures – making him at once rebellious and resentful. At the same time the influence of friends and peers is on the rise for they all have the same problems. You’re already an adult and therefore in the view of your teenager, incapable of understanding what he is going through. It is here that the beginnings of a generation gap appear. The teenager seeking to identify more closely with his peer group automatically and often deliberately rejects all that you stand for. Don’t be fooled – that value system that he is so busily rejecting is too deeply ingrained in him to be lost. He may modify it but ultimately he will return

What can you as a parent do at this time?

  • Understand his needs for privacy and independence, for carving out his own identity separate from the one he’s got from you so far.
  • Accept that while his emotions may be still childish and immature, fundamentally he is no more adult than child.
  • Treat him as a person – not an extension of you.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Be proud of her attempts at becoming an adult.
  • Be a friend giving advice more often than laying down the law.
  • In matters of health and safety, lay down the law without hesitation and in no uncertain terms.
  • Don’t worry about becoming unpopular. Deep down a teenager respects strength and there is no person so old that he doesn’t enjoy being cared about.
  • Stand up for your teenager in front of family and friends.
  • Encourage efforts at economic independence. Finding and holding down a job (part time or summer) will give your child a sense of worth, an understanding of the value of money and a sense of responsibility.
  • Respect the privacy of the teenager but make sure that important social relationships are maintained. Teach your teen that consideration of other people’s feelings is vital for later success in life.
  • Be the role model in his life by exemplifying all that you have taught him.
  • Keep a careful but surreptitious watch on him activities. This does not mean spying on him, but more of paying attention to body language, what she says, where she goes and with whom.

The teenager has the instincts of an adult but as socially he is still considered a child as he has not yet developed the responsibility and maturity to match the instincts.

  • Make the teenager help around the house. It is the only way to teach him responsibility and prevent him from having too much idle time to get bored (and consequently into bad habits).
  • Be the safety net for him.
  • Find other interests of your own. The more possessive you are the greater the risk of alienating him

In today’s world made progressively smaller by TV and the Internet, the Indian teenager is subjected to even greater complicating pressures:

  • His peer group is enjoying a lifestyle and career opportunities that seem attractive but are not always available to him.
  • Social values taught by parents and grandparent may seem inadequate in this New World.
  • Money and sex may appear to be the twin symbols of success for him.

Today’s teenager wants to work hard as well as play hard. Help her do so by allowing in moderation all the things that seem so attractive at this stage – money, dating and parties, independence and privacy. Above all, be there for her as a parent, as a friend and as a support system.