"Create a partnership with your teen about how you want to communicate as equals", says Maria Chatila of BPA Coaching. Image Credit: Getty Images

Teenage years are glorious and painful in equal parts – for everyone involved. The awkwardness. The frustration. The self-consciousness. The feeling of being misunderstood. We’ve all been there. We know how tough it can be. And if you were one of those abnormally well-adjusted and happy teens, you surely had a friend (or sibling or classmate) who was going through the dark days of teenage angst.

Considering that we were all teens once ourselves, it’s strange that we get to adulthood and struggle to empathise with, understand or ‘get’ our own teenage children. Surely we know what it means when a door is slammed in our face for no apparent reason. And shouldn’t we know how to deal with teenagers if they mope around the house feeling sorry for themselves? Perhaps we should, but we don’t. Luckily, help is at hand. We’ve found some amazing, teenage-translating experts to offer advice and support – to both you and your teen – through this traditionally troublesome period.

“Nobody understands me.”

Solution: Counselling

Who? Clare Smart, counsellor at LifeWorks Counselling and Development, who specialises in counselling adolescents.

Why do teens need this? “The most common issues I see are depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, anxiety disorders, OCD, eating disorders, anger problems, difficulties in relationships, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual behaviour, missing school, adjustment issues (such as when they have just moved to Dubai, parents have separated, or friends have left), body-image issues, low self-esteem, behaviour problems such as running away or stealing, issues related to physical health problems and insomnia. Teenagers often get referred to us by school counsellors, too.”

Is this UAE specific? “I think the more common issues in the UAE are those more applicable to expatriate lifestyle, such as adjusting to relocation, starting a new school, people leaving and friendships changing. Also, the high expectations of schools and the focus on pure academics rather than vocational skills and courses puts pressure on teens. On the whole though, the issues that teenagers come to me with in the UAE are in keeping with those that I would have encountered in the UK.”

Do parents always know? “I sometimes receive emails or calls from teenagers who are worried about their friend, but can also be asking about their own issue. They usually ask me for advice and I always reply to their emails or calls. I explain that I am not able to see them without their parent or guardian being aware and, if appropriate, I encourage them to speak to someone they trust, such as a teacher, relative or friend. I also let them know that they can ask their parents to contact me directly if they would like to come for counselling.”

Do the kids always know? “It is not unusual for parents to come to see me before bringing their child in, and I am always open to this. The reason may be to talk about what counselling may involve and what they could be doing (or not doing) in order to best help their child. Parents may also come to talk about how their own issues could be impacting on their child, for example if they are divorcing and they want to know how to talk to their teenager about this.

Sometimes parents are in a state of shock that they have discovered something about their child, for example that they self-harmed or that they have a disturbing blog. I also work with schools, either with the school counsellor or relevant teaching staff. This may be because the school has concerns about a child, or to get a child to return to school if they have been having difficulties.”

To book an appointment with Clare, call LifeWorks on 04-3942464, or email clare@lifeworksdubai.com.

“I’m FINE, alright?”

Solution: Relationship/sibling coaching

Who? Adam Zargar, life coach at 2B Limitless with a special interest in coaching children and adolescents and prior experience in teaching.

Why do teens need this? “Teens often don’t communicate well with their parents and don’t like to spend time with them as it’s not ‘cool’. They are getting angry as their hormones are kicking in, and they want to be treated like adults, so tend to push boundaries in search of more independence. Peer pressure has a growing influence as they hit teen years – if their friends have something, or are allowed to do something, they want it, or want to do it, too.

Also, parents always think they are right and know best because they have lived through experiences when they were young. They tell their children they understand and issue advice, but teens get frustrated as they think times have changed and their life is not the same as their parents’ teenage years were.”

What are the common issues? “Not knowing what they want in life. Not focusing on studies or homework. Behaviour issues, such as aggression at home or at school. Confidence and self-esteem issues – comparing themselves physically, or academically, with their peers or siblings (or hearing their parents comparing them) causes problems. Peer pressure to go to parties, to drink and to smoke.

What is sibling coaching? “It’s about teaching positive habits to children in the same family, or to similar-aged friends. It’s not individualised like the one-on-one sessions, but it hits home on key aspects that have come up from the intake session with the parents and the children together. Topics include being a good listener, being proactive, spreading happiness, dealing with anger, making friends and being responsible.”

Check out www.seeds2life.com, a parenting blogging site that Adam is involved in. Register on the site for a free copy of his guide, ‘10 steps to build a happy family’. For details of Adam’s family, child and sibling coaching, visit www.2blimitless.com.

“I’m the only person who feels this way.”

Solution: Connection to other teens

Who? Maria Chatila, family and relationship coach at BPA Coach, edits teen magazine 181 and produces an online TV show called Teen Talk, where UAE-based teens sit together and discuss relevant tricky topics.

Why do teens need this? “I started Teen Talk with two aims in mind. Firstly, I knew that teens already help other teens. They reach out to each other for help and I wanted to do something to help them become a better support network for each other. The second goal was to give parents of teens the opportunity to hear teens talking about their common problems and issues. On the show, I host and guide the conversation, but I learn a lot myself and walk away thinking, ‘OK, I know I am guilty of that myself.

I do it because I think I am helping my daughter, but now I realise I am not.’ I think it’s a great tool for teens – and parents of teens – to hear what is going on inside other teens’ heads. For teenagers themselves, it helps them feel understood and ‘the same’ as other teens. For parents, when it’s not your child talking about a topic, you can listen and understand better. When it’s our own family, we are too emotionally connected to hear. This gives families the chance to open up and talk about issues.”

How does it help? “There is so much support and advice out there for parents of young children, but none for parents of older children. There seems to be an unwritten rule that, once our children grow up, our family has to look perfect from the outside. But teens don’t like to mask or pretend – they like to be heard. Also, we can’t help the fact that we parent unconsciously, recreating the way in which we were parented. I always say to parents, ‘You’re human and you have human reactions.

That’s OK. What matters is how quickly you respond to your reaction.’ For example, if you get an eyeball roll from your teen, it may trigger your temper and you may ground them or take their phone, then you both go off in a rage. If you try to diffuse the situation two days later, they won’t react positively, but if straight away you say, ‘I know we just had a big issue, but let’s sit down for half an hour and talk about what happened’, the problem will still be there but the energy will be softened.

Also, think through the eyes of your teen, speak her language, enter her world – BBM her and say, ‘I’m sorry. Can I meet you in the kitchen?’ It’s good to say to your teen, ‘I’m just human, too. I make mistakes and it’s OK.’”

Visit www.bpacoach.com for more or search TeenTalkDubai on Facebook. Also find Teen Talk episodes on YouTube.

“You treat me like a child.”

Solution: A positive-parenting approach

Who? Therese Sequeira is a parenting educator and a Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) coordinator at KidsFIRST.

Why do teens need this? “The teenage years can be a time for power struggles within families and at schools, so parents have to work out how to diffuse these. Most schools have counsellors and some parents use them (and their children’s teachers) as a resource, which is excellent. Group workshops for parents can be really empowering, as can seminars for parents in schools. It can help parents discuss topics such as how to discipline, how to handle giving an allowance and how to deal with certain tricky situations.

In teenage years, peer groups become really important. You could find a dip in school grades and parents struggle with their children over it. The best way to approach them is to talk to them about it, but to really take the time to listen. Teenagers always say, ‘My parents never listen to me’, but you want them to know they can come to you when they have a problem and you will take the time to hear them out.

When they talk, look at them, hold your tongue, nod your head and let them talk. They might come home from school in a bad mood, slam a door and be rude. Give them some space and eventually you might be able to find out what’s going on. If it escalates, say, ‘OK, I want to find out what’s going on, so we’ll come back to this later when we are both calmer.’”

How adult are they? “Teenagers want to be treated like adults, but they aren’t. I’m a big fan of children having independence, but they have to earn it – they need to show that they can be responsible. An ideal parenting style is to help your child help themselves – you almost have to become their personal coach. Help them to problem-solve and ask them questions to help them come up with their own solutions.

Don’t spoon-feed them solutions to everything. At the same time, it is important that they are supervised in a way that is effective – especially when it comes to technology and communication, as many teens stay up late into the night on their phones and laptops. Another thing is to make sure you get some family time every week. So maybe set some rules around this, such as Wednesday evening is a family evening. Take the time to be a family together.”

Therese is running Triple P Seminar Series for Parents of Teenagers on Sunday evenings and an Intensive Parenting Skills Course during February. Seminar topics include Raising Responsible Teenagers; Raising Competent Teenagers; and Getting Teenagers Connected. For more details, visit www.parentingdubai.com, or www.kidsfirstmc.com.

“I’m not good at anything.”

Solution: The Teenage Success Guide workshop

Who? Sharon Monteiro is a life coach, NLP, hypnosis and EFT practitioner who used to work as a school counsellor.

Why do teens need this? “I give teenagers space to talk freely and tools for dealing with things in their lives. We work on self-esteem, gratitude and anger management in a totally interactive way. We also work on identifying positive role models and talk about the power of positive intention. Teenagers are still kids at heart – we all are – but as our children grow older, we give them less TLC and attention. So they start turning to their friends for answers, and they can get the wrong information. At these workshops, teens have the freedom to say and ask whatever they want.”

What do parents need to know? “I’m launching a workshop for parents soon to help them understand their teenagers and communicate with them. One tip is to take an inventory of what you’ve said to your teenager that day. As you say it, watch out for limiting beliefs that might be being installed. Be aware of repeating negative things your parents said to you. People often say to their children ‘When I was your age...’ But we parents don’t have a clue what it’s like to be a teenager now. Kids these days are bombarded by technology, internet and an online culture.

Also, stop being so hard on them – the minute you tell a child not to do something, it becomes the poisonous apple and they want it anyway. Relax, being a parent is not meant to be stressful. If you expect your child to be angry and stupid, they will respond with a bad attitude. They want to be loved like a child, but trusted like an adult. Try to respect their wishes. And remember, you don’t own your child. A lot of parents struggle to let go of the apron strings. But as soon as you remember that you don’t own them, there’s space for them to still love you, but lead their own lives.”

The next Teenage Success Guide workshop is February 16 at The Third Eye. Dh300. Visit www.thirdeyeonline.com.

Talk to your teen

Maria Chatila of BPA Coaching gives her tips for healthy communication.

  • Create a partnership with your teen about how you want to communicate as equals.
  • When communicating with teens about a difficult issue, clarify what you have heard at the end so there’s no room for misunderstanding. And get them to clarify what they have heard you say.
  • Set aside time during the week for quality time with teens – walk in their shoes and do something they think is fun.