Words by psychotherapist, Jane Faulkner
Teenagers! Just the word is enough to strike fear and concern into many parents hearts. It’s a time when our children transition into adulthood and as parents we are forced to let go and trust that our children will make good choices and that the foundations that we have laid are solid enough for them to move safely on to adulthood.
I see a lot of teenagers and many of them are struggling with the transition from childhood to adulthood. Their bodies are changing, they are curious about the opposite sex, hormones are surging, they are negotiating relationships with friends and family, they have huge social pressures, online everything, they are trying to find themselves and work out what they want to be when they grow up! It’s a time when they are trying to work out who they are and find out where they fit in.
So firstly to understand what is happening for teenagers: a major process called differentiation is going on. This is an important developmental process that involves your teen working out who they are and how they are unique and special in the world. It’s a process that requires a lot of questioning, a lot of chewing things over and spitting out what does not fit into their view of themselves. It is a healthy process; it is just uncomfortable for all involved!
In order to work out who they are, your teen may need to create distance between themselves and your family, they are realising that they not the same as you, they are working out their own values, beliefs and dreams and how they want to be in the world.
The process is painful for parents because it feels like you are losing your child and losing any control or influence in their life, they may start to reject everything about you and start to seek meaning from friends and media.
As parents it is important and helpful to look back to your own experience of being a teenager, what do you remember? What did you need from your parents? What were you looking for from friends? How did you differentiate yourself and make yourself unique, how did you become your own entity?
The paradox is that teenagers also need to belong and feel like they fit in, they also need to believe that they have some inherent value and that they can create a life of meaning and worth for themselves. So it feels like a constant process of push you away, need you closer. So what can you do?
- Build a relationship with your teen by being interested in them, be curious about their quirks and things that they love, shelve your judgements or any suggestions- this may shut them down, just be open and listen
- Teach them to believe in themselves and to follow their passion, share stories with them of your own triumphs and struggles.
- Keep an eye on your own self-talk, do you often put yourself down and doubt yourself. Commit to modeling behaviour that supports you and is self-affirming.
- Remind your teen that they have a lifetime to find themselves and to choose a career or a way to make a difference in the world, many amazing people flunked school and still created amazing lives for themselves.
- Notice your own behaviour; are you putting unnecessary pressure and expectations on your teen? Are you happy in your own life or are you trying to succeed through them?
- Allow your teen to stand up for themselves and their differences, however, teach your teen to communicate responsibly and respectfully.
- Remind them gently, they are teens, that they need to take into account other people’s needs as well.
- Remind your teen that everyone is accountable for their actions and their words, and that everything that they do has consequences.
- Remind them regularly to trust their gut and that they can always call you or tell you anything.
- Start to encourage your teen’s opinion and treat them as an equal being, be curious about their view on life. Resist talking down to them or babying them.
- You are wanting them to be responsible so practice letting go in small ways, trusting them and testing the waters.
- Discuss big topics like sex, drugs, fast cars, body image, suicide and peer pressure. Thrash out ways to work through challenges. Share your own experiences; be real with them about what hurt you, how you dealt with things and about what was great.
- Share what you need from them, how you need them to show you that they can be responsible and, therefore, trustworthy.
- Surround your teen with other healthy adults, sometimes they will be open to advise and wisdom from others.
- Remember you are not your teen’s friend, they need parents, not more friends.
- Be clear about what you require from your teen, many parents shrink away from conflict and choose not to set firm, clear boundaries. This makes teens feel unsafe and unsure, it also means they need to negotiate territory that they may not be ready for.
So get clear about what you need from your teen- write it down and discuss it when everyone is calm and open to conversation. Have clear consequences and remind yourself that you are supporting them by setting boundaries and making them accountable – you are preparing them for the real world.
Jane Faulkner started her career as a Registered Nurse and has worked in hospitals in Australia and overseas. During her career as a nurse, she supported people through the difficult transitions of illness, grief, death, trauma, mental health issues and childbirth.
Jane has a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy, a Bachelor of Nursing, a Certificate in Initiatic Art Therapy and is certified in Equine Assisted Psychotherapist. Yoga is an integral part of her life, she is a Certified Iyengar Teacher and continues to study and teach in the Iyengar yoga tradition. She is an accomplished teacher, therapist, and facilitator and has led many women’s groups and Day Retreats, presented seminars and workshops, and worked with many different community groups and individuals.
Jane is the founder of Equine Assisted Therapy Australia, an organisation that provides training, retreats, programs and individual sessions that aim to provide individuals with a new and authentic ways to grow and learn more about themselves. Connect with Jane HERE.