Adolescence is a challenging time for parents and teens. Even the word “teenager” is enough to conjure feelings of anxiety, fright, and dread for most adults, however few are empathetic to the challenges and anxiety teenager’s experience. Whereas the basic cause of the tension between parents and teens remain the same, the current generation of adolescence is fraught with unprecedented challenges.
Parental stress and difficulty in supportive parenting arises from not understanding normal adolescent developmental. For instance as parents, we easily accept the changes of a growing toddler and know that “the terrible twos” will pass. We love and support the child while setting firm consistent boundaries, so that the toddler can emerge self confident, respectful, and feel loved.
Similarly to a toddler the teen experiences developmental changes, perhaps more so than a toddler. The desire for self-expression and for peer acceptance makes these years particularly challenging. The physical, emotional, and behavioral changes appear, seemingly instantaneous, as they become the unique person they are. This requires a separation from parents.
So it is not surprising parent’s feelings are hurt in the face of normal development. Teens often prefer to spend more time with friends and less with adults, and want more alone time in their room. Perhaps they experiment with friends, clothes, music, hairstyles etc. It’s hard to believe that they still want us around. Letting go of parental fears and anxiety during these changes while still maintaining strong boundaries to keep them safe, enables teens to develop normally.
Compounding the challenge is the generation’s omnipresent access to the Internet. Modern lifelines such as smart phones, instant messaging, and Facebook, facilitate teens connecting. Parents struggle with losing their teens to electronics, while teens fight with the desire to be connected.
The lifelines for connecting with friends also magnify difficult aspects of teen life such as drama, danger, and exclusion. Graphic images are readily available solicited or not. Teenagers see immediately and continuously what their friends are doing and with whom. Anything posted is instant, permanent and easily breeds insecurity and bullying. All the while leaving little time for schoolwork.
We all want our children to be happy and to facilitate this in teens is challenging. Happiness comes foremost with safety, so rules and role modeling are important. Understanding the unique pressures teens face today and their normal developmental changes is key to supportive parenting.