Have you noticed that the stereotypical teenager in a movie is portrayed as moody, self-absorbed, and rebellious complete with eye rolling, teeth sucking, and slamming doors? Why is this? I mean, if we are being honest, it’s pretty spot on, but why? Do you, as their caregiver, play any role in their emotions and behavior? Let’s step back into the shoes of a teenager and explore different directions that they are constantly being pulled in.
So often kids are bombarded with daily statements like, “You’re still a child.” Do the dishes. Take the trash out. Clean your room. Do your homework. Curfew is 9 o’clock. Don’t hang out with that kid. Where in these commands would they hear care and concern? You know you care. Curfew keeps them safe, chores teach responsibility, but do they hear those lessons within the rules? Adolescents often times feel as if they are a puppet on their caregivers’ strings.
How can you be a teen but still sometimes act like a child?
While it is true that adolescents need structure in the home, at school, and within extra curricular activities, it is important to take the time to evaluate the effect that those structures have on independence. There are numerous apps that can track your adolescent’s whereabouts. Even how they are driving the car can be monitored like the speed they are going and when they press the brakes too hard. Maybe you feel protective and comforted by reading your adolescent’s text messages or social media posts. You have a number of tools at your disposal to know almost every detail of your child’s life and you feel that all of that information is needed to make decisions for them. I mean why withhold the answer if it saves them from making a mistake, right? Aren’t teenagers supposed to follow rules and be obedient?
I can understand how this might make you feel more knowledgeable and in control as you make decisions for your teen, but what if we look at it differently for a moment. Developmentally, your child is gaining the skills to make choices, learn from consequences, and use past experiences to shape future ones. This developmental phase can be interrupted if they are not given the chances to practice these skills.
What in the world is my teen thinking?
As your teen grows into the end of their adolescence, a new set of urgent concerns can come into focus. Statements that can be heard within this transitional phase of the parent-child relationship include, “You’re not a child anymore.” Grow up. Act your age. You know better. Be mature. Get a job. Make a decision on the college you want to go to. While adolescents are getting used to structure and trying to follow rules, they are often times told to demonstrate maturity in their behavior and decision making. Have you given them the tools to do so? It’s almost as if they are being told to act independently while being confined by rules. How confusing this must be for a teenager.
Do you they know what makes a good friend or have they always been told who they can and can’t hang out with? Do they understand the importance of hygiene or was that just a rule to follow? Do they know how communication relates to trust or were they just afraid of the consequences of not communicating? Very important lessons and messages can be overshadowed by authority and obedience. It is most beneficial for your teen to understand the why behind the desired behavior. This behavior is more likely to follow them into their adulthood if they can understand it’s underlying goal.
What message am I telling my teen?
So often, parents can tell their teens messages like, “Enjoy your childhood.” Have fun. Make mistakes. You won’t get these years back. Don’t grow up too fast. So, they’ve been given rules for almost every aspect of their life, expectations of maturity and independence, and now told to just have fun? Whew. My head is spinning, how about yours? How about your teen’s especially since their brain is still developing the portions that house processing and categorizing?
Of course you want your teenager to have fun, make memories they will laugh about for years, go to prom, and create friendships that will last a lifetime. Are you giving them opportunities for fun without fear? Are you giving them opportunities to make mistakes that they can learn from? It’s common for adults to forget what fun looked like at 13, 16, or 18. Remember that society changes, trends change, what was fun for us may not be fun for them. Their good ole days will probably look a little or even lot different from yours.
So here we are, a list of rules to follow, expectations to act mature, and the encouragement of fun. How does constantly being pulled in all of these directions impact your adolescent? Have you asked them? I cannot speak for your teenager, but in my experience, I have heard words like overwhelmed, frustrated, and annoyed which is commonly expressed by withdrawn behavior, moody attitudes, and anger. Have you noticed your adolescent coping in unhealthy ways? Avoiding any attempt at a conversation, engaging in excessive gaming or substance use, entertaining a toxic relationship and/or friendship? Is every response “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”?
How can I reach out my teen?
Sometimes we forget that teenagers will feel stress. They need to be allowed to have big emotions and they may not know how to handle those emotions. Biologically, the portion of their brain (the prefrontal cortex) that helps with emotional regulation is still being developed. How stressful it must be for a teenager to wake up and have to decide between doing what they are told, practicing choice, or enjoying youth. As a caregiver, your role could be to listen, offer guidance, ask about their feelings rather than their behavior, and provide a safe space to come back to when needed.
Parenting a teen is hard work:
Being a teenager is hard. We’ve all done it. You know what else is hard? Parenting a teenager. It’s okay to say that, to scream it even. How are you supposed to know when you’re pulling too hard in all directions or maybe not pulling hard enough in one direction over another? If you found yourself relating to these statements, asking yourself these same questions, or noticing the same behaviors in your adolescent, then I would love to help you navigate your next steps.
Maybe my office can be your safe place to say “I don’t know what I am doing” without judgment or expectations from others to be a perfect parent/guardian. I can help you incorporate healthy choice into your parenting, increase effective communication with your teenager, and build confidence in yourself as a caregiver who wasn’t given a manual to follow. Or maybe I can be the safe place for your teenager to express that frustration and confusion. I can help them develop emotional regulation skills, work on their assertiveness when communicating, and increase good decision making skills. Maybe you are thinking that you would like to work on these skills together with your teenager.
Professional help is available for parents & teens
My door as a therapist is open and I love helping parents and their children work toward a thriving relationship. In the mean time, instill wisdom when they will listen, provide a welcoming space if they attempt to open up, and enjoy a classic teen movie with them if they ever decide to come out of their room.