Celebrating Adolescence: 3 Tips for Parents of Adolescents
Let’s face it, adolescence gets a bad rap. We’re all familiar with the stereotypical “moody adolescent,” and those of us who devote our lives to working with adolescents—whether parents, coaches, or counselors—are often met with sympathy. In fact, when I tell people I work with adolescents, I’m mostly commonly met with a sympathetic “I’m sorry.” It’s clear that we’re conditioned to view adolescence as time to simply endure. As such, parents of adolescents are often placed in a difficult spot—they’re conditioned to brace for an indefinite period of difficulty, and are often not armed with enough information to understand the changes that mark the adolescent period.
Atop the list of misconceptions about adolescence lies the idea that adolescence will be a period that’s miserable for all. To the contrary, adolescence is a time to be celebrated! Adolescence marks the transition from childhood to adulthood, and features the development of important skills and characteristics that will last a lifetime. With a few tips, parents can work toward celebrating, not dreading, adolescence.
1. Parents can work toward understanding the hallmark changes of adolescent development, so they don’t mistake those changes for character flaws.
I often witness parents place a negative evaluation on a behavior that’s part and parcel of the adolescent developmental period. For instance, we know that adolescence is a period of heightened emotional intensity caused by changes in the brain. Parents have a choice: condemn those changes and lament their “moody teen,” or embrace the increased emotional intensity of this period. What may present as moodiness one day, can present as a newfound passion the next. To some extent, these brain-based changes are inevitable, so it’s important not to place a negative spin on an inevitable developmental change. Perhaps your adolescent has fallen in love for the first time, or discovers a social issue to tackle with passion. Search for the ways increased emotional intensity creates positive changes, and celebrate them!
2. Parents mistake their adolescents' enhanced drive for social connection as, “my child doesn’t want to connect with me anymore.”
At some point, it’s likely your adolescent will show an increased interest in peer connection, possibly at the expense of family time. This does not mean your child no longer needs you, or doesn’t need the parent-child connection! Peer relationships are paramount during adolescence and it’s normal for adolescents to push away from what feels safe (family). Parents need to trust that they still play a vital role in their child’s life. You may not receive the kind of positive feedback you’re used to, but know that connecting with your adolescent is still critically important.
3. Work toward embracing the person your adolescent is becoming, versus displaying extreme nostalgia for the child that was.
It’s normal for parents to mourn the end of childhood, but doing so in excess, especially in front of your adolescent, is not likely to be helpful. Regardless of intention, statements such as “you were so much easier to deal with when you were a kid', or, “he wasn’t always like this,” send the message that you’re rejecting the changes your adolescent is undergoing. Of course your child will be vastly different at fifteen than she was at eleven! It’s expected that you’ll face challenges as the parent of an adolescent child, but again, work hard to identify changes you can be excited about.
Adolescence can be a trying time, but it can also be a time of excitement and wonder. Parents can play a pivotal role in setting the tone for this important developmental period. Strive to enhance your own understanding of the adolescent developmental period so that you can frame your child’s emotional, physical, and behavioral changes within the context of normal human development. That understanding can serve to soften the blow of the new challenges of this period and can help parents see the beauty in their adolescent’s transition from childhood to adulthood.Photo by Jeremy Thomas