Research-Based Parent Education and Support

Supporting teens through huge (invisible) changes

Posted by on Nov 3, 2016 in Child Development, Recent | 0 comments

Supporting teens through huge (invisible) changes

Earlier this week a photo from five years ago popped up on my newsfeed featuring our family of five. Presumably in an effort to conjure up nostalgia, an algorithm at Facebook reminded me of how quickly time flies and how very much my children have changed. I don’t often stop to think the amazing transformation that is taking place right before my eyes until I catch a glimpse of the past and compare it with the present. I still wear the same glasses as I did in that photo, and that shirt is still in my drawer. Yet my children are different people altogether! When and how did they morph into these young adults who are now taller than I am?

Last night I joined a friend and approximately 600 other parents in the high school auditorium in a nearby town. We all voluntarily ventured out on a school night in order to learn more about adolescent development. This was obviously a topic of high interest as we all but filled the venue and parents practically fell over one another to have their voices heard during the Q and A portion of the evening.

The speaker, psychologist Lisa Damour, bestselling author of Untangled, columnist at the New York Times and regular contributor to CBS news, reminded the gathered parents of the amazing amount of growth and development that occurs throughout the teen years. Dr. Damour reassured the gathered parents that as we gain knowledge about our teenagers’ development, we will be more able to relax, enjoy and support our children. She reminded us that children need time and space to work out their own problems as we provide guidance and understanding and that parents need support as well.

“Parents: it’s not about you!” Dr. Damour mock-whispered to us as she began the evening. Dr. Damour informed us that when it comes to adolescent development, “normal” is hard and might not be fun, yet somehow, all must make it through normal changes in order to reach adulthood.

I enjoyed listening to Dr. Damour’s prepared remarks as she outlined the seven strands of development found in her most recent book, Untangled. Organizing adolescent development into strands serves to make order of the chaos by explaining confusing behavior, attitudes and reactions, highlighting the amount and pace of development and providing orientation of self within the development. The seven strands are as follows:

  1. Parting with childhood
  2. Joining a new tribe
  3. Harnessing emotions
  4. Contending with adult authority
  5. Planning for the future
  6. Entering the romantic world
  7. Care for self

I highly recommend reading Dr. Damour’s books and articles to gain a better understanding of development throughout the teen years. It was, however, during the interactive portion of the evening that I gleaned the most intriguing and helpful nuggets.

“Be a potted plant.”

Teens want and need their parents to be present and available although they may not really want to talk and interact. Parental presence is key to communicating support to children.

“Eye-rolling means ‘I heard you.’”

Teenagers roll their eyes. It can be annoying and seems terribly rude. But really, when I think about it, Dr. Damour is right. What else are they going to do? “Wow, thanks mom, for that timely piece of advice.” From now on, if I interpret eye-rolls as acknowledgement of listening, I can release my indignation and move forward, reassured that I’ve been heard.

“Teens are shaped by our expectations, more than we know.”

“Sometimes kids just want to hear, ‘That sucks!’ when they complain about events of the day.”

I left the event feeling encouraged and empowered. Our kids are going through big changes. The consistent framework of our family routines and values set in place during the early childhood years still serve an important purpose. Our kids will push against the boundaries, and we must allow them to assert themselves within the expanding framework. Availability and responsive interactions remain imperative. When we interact with humor and assume positive intent, our connections will be enhanced resulting in deeper understanding of each other within a healthy relationship.

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