Understanding the Teen Years
So when exactly does adolescence start? The message to send your kid is: Everybody’s different. There are early bloomers, speedy developers, and slow-but-steady growers. In other words, there’s a wide range of what’s considered normal. Many kids announce the onset of adolescence with a dramatic change in behavior around their parents. They’re starting to separate from Mom and Dad and become more independent. At the same time, kids this age are increasingly aware of how others, especially their peers, see them and are desperately trying to fit in. Their peers often become much more important, as compared with their parents in terms of making decisions.
Kids often start trying different looks and identities and become very aware of how they differ from their peers, which can result in episodes of distress and conflict with parents. But the primary goal of the teen years is to achieve independence. Teens will start pulling away from their parents — especially the parent whom they’re the closest to. This can come across as teens always seeming to have different opinions than their parents or not wanting to be around their parents in the same way they used to.
As teens mature, they start to think more abstractly and rationally. They’re forming their moral code and parents may find that kids who previously had been willing to conform to please them will suddenly begin asserting themselves — and their opinions — strongly and rebelling against parental control. You may need to look closely at how much room you give your teen to be an individual and ask yourself questions such as: “Am I a controlling parent?,” “Do I listen to my child?,” and “Do I allow my child’s opinions and tastes to differ from my own?”
Know the Warning Signs
A certain amount of change may be normal during the teen years, but too drastic or long-lasting switch in personality or behavior may signal real trouble — the kind that needs professional help. Watch for one or more of these warning signs:
- extreme weight gain or loss
- sleep problems
- rapid, drastic changes in personality
- sudden change in friends
- skipping school continually
- falling grades
- talk or even jokes about suicide
- signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
- run-ins with the law
Any other inappropriate behavior that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your teen’s behavior or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn’t suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn’t suddenly become constantly withdrawn. Your doctor or a local counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you find proper counseling.
Respect Kids’ Privacy
Some parents have a very hard time with this one. They may feel that anything their kids do is their business. But to help your teen become a young adult, you’ll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble then you can invade your child’s privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it’s a good idea to back off. In other words, your teenager’s room, texts, e-mails, and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn’t expect your teen to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where teens are going, when they’ll be returning, what they’re doing, and with whom, but you don’t need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn’t expect to be invited along! Start with trust. Let your teen know that you trust him or her. But, if the trust gets broken, he or she may enjoy fewer freedoms until the trust is rebuilt. Decide what your expectations are and don’t be insulted when your growing child doesn’t always want to be with you. Think back: You probably felt the same way about your mom and dad.
Will This Ever Be Over?
As kids progress through the teen years, you’ll notice a slowing of the highs and lows of adolescence. Eventually, they’ll become independent, responsible, communicative young adults. So remember this motto: We’re going through this together, and we’ll come out of it — together!