LIVING IN HARMONY WITH YOUR TEENAGER

How many of you have teenage children? How many of you with teenage children understand them? How many of you believe your teenage children would say they understand you?
If you raised your hand to all three questions, just bypass the remainder of this article and consider how you could share your wisdon with others. However, it would seem that the vast majority would do well to read on.
What is it about children-- who are so delightfully cute, insightful and obedient during childhood-- that causes a metamorphosis to begin on or about their twelfth birthday? Suddenly, they become less available, withdrawing to that secret place called their room. A teenager’s room: where mystery lurks behind closed doors. The parent who accidentally penetrates this new fortress is besieged by a little of everything-- everywhere! And then has to confront the indignation of one whose space has been abruptly violated.
Furthermore, a parent will also notice a gradual reduction in responsible behaviors, such as chores; accompanied, perhaps, by a sudden increase in the phone bill. The telephone: one of the tools used by teenagers to foster their identity...and drive their parents crazy! Parents who allow their own telephone time to be reduced to specific hours of the day (i.e. when their teenage children are in school), often reluctantly reclaim the use of their phone by purchasing a separate one for their teenager...an excellent teenage strategy! All these changes can and frequently do cause the fabric of a family to begin unraveling. Parents feel bewildered, out- of-control and helpless. Teenagers feel angry, rebellious and somewhat confused about changing.
The teenage years are a transition period between childhood and adulthood. They represent a ritual-- a rite de passage-- replete with rules and regulations that govern "acceptable" behavior. Those who survive the ordeal often develop the insight and social maturity necessary to become confident and successful adults. However, those who fail this "trial-by- fire" are frequently ostracized and emerge as adults lacking self-esteem and confidence; and fail at their endeavors. Understanding and weighing all of this against parental demands only serves to increase teenagers' stress.
Fortunately, there is a bridge parents can cross into the teenage world. Its structure is a warm, supportive home environment, reinforced by parental understandings from their own teenage years when they, too, had to endure this ordeal. Perhaps the following suggestions can help parents promote a smoother transition to adulthood for their teenagers:


  • 1- Tackle the "big-three" issues, drugs, sex and alcohol, rather than avoiding them. Each of these topics involves experimentation with accompanying ramifications, especially peer group approval. Discussing these issues openly, that is, without censuring or judging your teenagers' views, can often be enlightening. Remember, a teenager's model-of-the-world is usually more restricted than his or her parents, having experienced less of life. In order to help expand that model, a parent needs to earn a teenager's trust. This is done through acceptance-- not avoidance or dogmatic decrees.
  • 2- Set realistic goals. Use contingency contracting-- it works! Basically, this involves what has been called a quid pro quo: Something for something. Commensurate with becoming a grownup, teenagers expect increased privileges. Unfortunately, they may not wait for them to be offered, which often leads to friction. Offer them in exchange for the performance of specific activities. Be "realistic." Balance your demands against your teenager's schoolwork time and free time interests. Avoid hollow threats. When a parent feels out-of-control, he or she may suddenly pull rank, but in a manner that cannot be enforced. Teenagers are younger and less experienced, but they are not stupid. They can sense weakness from a parent, then take advantage of it; and then lose respect for that parent.
  • 3- Learn the power of "ignoring." We all do this at times, albeit not always in service of generating useful outcomes. Sometimes adults ignore others with whom they feel angry, or children who are about to ask for money. Ignoring means paying no visual, verbal or tactile attention to another per- son. The comment, "I'm just going to have to ignore you..." is not ignoring! Use this with trivial issues such as teenage fads-- long (short) hair, matters of dress, music (at tolerable decibels), and so forth.

Be a sounding board-- rather than a cacophony of noise. Learn to harmonize with your teenager and what results may be music to your ears.