For my 14-year-old daughter, she is already an adult looking forward to her independence with her own opinions, choices and approaches. As a mother, I watch in awe as she grows and matures into her own independent self, physically, emotionally and intellectually. I can’t help but wonder how fast time flies…
The little girl who shyly clung to me wanting my validation in each and every thing she did is now slowly withdrawing from our mother-daughter relationship and is on her way to become an adult. There are mood swings, tantrums, tears, yelling, slammed doors and a lot of drama all of a sudden. And yes, to be honest, I wasn’t prepared for it.
Her rebellious and sometimes noxious behaviour was what gave me a reality check now and then about how things were not the same as before. It was initially tough to digest the hurtful and, at times, humiliating remarks. It was frustrating and emotionally draining as well.
Kids push all your buttons and drive you to the edge of sanity, foiling all your well-intentioned attempts for a truce. Surely, teenage years are a period of upheaval for many families.
Also known as adolescence, it is a period of transition from childhood to adulthood and lasts from 13 to 19 years of age. Puberty hits during this time triggering heaps of physical as well as deep emotional changes. Hormones wreak havoc and brain changes happen resulting in mixed emotions and a state of turmoil. Teenagers are on a constant quest for their identity, figuring out who they are and how others perceive them. The fact that they are neither a child nor an adult but somewhere in between hits them hard. They will push you away when you are trying to exert control.
Every child goes through puberty at their own pace. The physical, emotional and behavioural developments differ for every child just like their personalities and social backgrounds. Freedom, privacy and friends become immensely important factors. Girls mature physically at around 14 years of age and as that happens, they become more conscious of their bodies, their looks and their image, triggering body image issues. Social media makes it worse.
Those active on social media worry about whether or not they look attractive in photos. This can affect a teen’s self-esteem. For some, dealing with period pain is tough, let alone the hassles of handling it and the hygiene part. As for boys, besides physical changes, they experience a range of emotions including those related to their sexuality. Confusion, fear, anxiety and being impulsive and super sensitive are all what teenagers usually deal with.
Being there for each other
When my husband suggested I not take the hurtful remarks and eye rolls directed at me by my daughter personally and to let her be, as a mother it wasn’t that easy to stand aside and watch her struggle. We have dealt with it with patience and continuing to do so, comforting and being a pillar of strength for each other when needed. This might not always be the case with everyone.
Things can get hard if you stay in a joint family. The unsolicited comments and advice from extended family, particularly bossy aunties about how this is the right time to keep an eye on your child and to pull the reins tight to prevent them from going astray adds to the anxiety of parents.
In a typical scenario, where one parent is away during the day, it is left to the other - usually the mum - to deal with these waves of intense emotional outbursts. Regardless of whether she is working or a stay-at-home mum, every woman with a teenage child goes through this phase albeit in varying degrees. It can get painfully hard with a difficult teenager at home, especially if you are a single parent.
However, be assured that teenage and puberty are absolutely a natural part of the growing up process. The developmental changes during this stage and the challenges that come with it are normal and nothing to be afraid of. To all those mothers with teens out there, don’t stress yourself out.
It’s okay to lose your cool. It’s okay to feel sad or guilty. Forgive yourself; reset your goals and try again because what every parent wishes for is a close connection with their teenage son or daughter as they grow up into independent human beings. It is all about finding a balance between setting the boundaries and permitting your child to forge their own path. So as parents, as adults, what can we do to extend support and the guidance required?
Lessons from a teenager’s mum
As a mother of a teenage daughter, I would like to share a few things that I learnt in my parenting journey.
Try to understand what they are going through. Instead of being easily judgmental, getting angry and dismissing them, try to hear them out and offer solace. Communication is the key. It is difficult to get your teenage son or daughter to talk. They may pretend not to hear or see and oftentimes all you get may be a grumble in your direction when you call for dinner. Don’t worry. Spend time with them and make them feel comfortable and encourage them to share their thoughts. Listen attentively when they do. This will help gain their trust. Acknowledgement and acceptance are what they seek. A warm tight hug can work like magic at times in reinforcing the bond between you and your child.
As teenagers begin to explore the outside world as well as the vast and treacherous world of the internet, they are exposed to a zillion things, one after another, paving way for comparisons, self-doubts, and consequently leading to a loss of confidence. Help them express their fears of self-doubt and guide them on how to deal with it.
Teenagers hate advice. For them, they are already adults. So, treat them as such. This was one of the lessons I learnt while parenting my teen. Stop lecturing. They are desperately trying to find their place in the adult world. They like to do things their way, at their own pace and convenience and usually dislike adults in their space. Rather than choking them with advice and admonishments every now and then, offer suggestions and tips like a friend would. Don’t forget to ask for their inputs in between the conversation.
Relationships teenagers have with their family, peers and other members of their social circle play a significant role in shaping their growth and development. They long to feel accepted and valued in their relationships especially in their friend circle. They like to experiment along with their friends and are willing to take risks. Get to know their friends and their families.
Don’t take the rude behaviour personally. Of course, eye rolls and back-talk are annoying. But just ignore them. Don’t give them the power to influence you. Giving ultimatums or shouting doesn’t work. So, talk it out together later when things are calm.
Finding a balance
Set boundaries according to their age. Just like too little discipline doesn’t help, being too rigid also is not the right approach. While children lack obedience in the former case, they lack problem solving abilities and decision-making skills in the latter scenario because you make the decisions for them. Hence, it is better to impose age-appropriate punishments if they disobey you. There is nothing wrong in asking where your children are going, who they are with or whom they are texting late at night, even after the stipulated bed time.
It is also fine to leave certain things as they wish, like styling their clothes as they want or listening to music which their parents don’t like. Teenagers like feeling a sense of control over their bodies and hence it’s best to let it go.
Let them experience failure. Teach them that the world doesn’t come to an end if they mess up. This will only help them understand more about themselves, identify their weaknesses and develop resilience.
It is a good idea to hold family meetings on a regular basis. It gives an opportunity to share and discuss schedules, grievances, quarrels or any matter that is of concern to the members. Everybody gets a chance to speak while the others listen without interruption.
Sometimes we tend to withhold our love and affection as a response to difficult behaviour by our children. It might not be possible to display the same level of patience every time. However, it shouldn’t be the case. Be there for them always and let them know it. It is therefore essential to provide that solid ground which they can always come back to.
Don’t be afraid to seek help from experts if you are dealing with a difficult teenager. A therapist or coach can help to ease the strain. Being engaged in parent support groups can help as well.
Parents are human beings too. They can have a bad day or get exhausted as well. There will be spells of angry outbursts, and attempts to assert your dominance and power. It’s okay. Let your child understand that being an adult doesn’t mean being perfect. But you should be responsible for your behaviour. Acknowledge your mistakes and also apologise. By doing so, not only are you setting an example for your children and being a role model for them but also you are reinforcing the connection with them.
For your teen, you may not be a priority nowadays. It can be a little saddening when you think like that. But don’t be. And don’t give up. Retune your parenting skills a bit and try again. It’s never too late to change your approach and get closer to them. This turbulent period will soon become a memory. Your rebellious teenager would eventually grow up into an independent and caring human being who will be there at your side for the rest of your life.
-Shauqueen Mizaj is a journalist who hails from Kerala, India.
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