As a parent I have survived the 3am feedings, temper-tanturms, back to school blues, chicken pox broken limbs and headlice. So why is the word ‘teenager’ causing me sleepless nights? Because I know that the teenage years are a period of confusion and upheaval for many families…Teens, are often suddenly energetic, thoughtful, and idealistic, with a deep interest in what's fair and right; which can often lead to conflict between parents and teenagers.
Understanding the Teen Years
So when does adolescence start? Everybody's different — there are early bloomers, late arrivers, speedy developers, and slow-and-steady growers. In other words, there's a wide range of what's considered normal, I am the mother of an early bloomer –yes, I have lost share on bathroom use.
But it's important to make a distinction between puberty and adolescence. In short: puberty is a period of physical transition, adolescence is about a psychological and social transition.
Children often announce the onset of adolescence with a dramatic change in behavior around their parents, and that is what is keeping me awake at night! My 11 year old is starting to become more independent, suddenly becoming aware of how others, especially his peers, see him and desperately trying to fit in. It is almost as if his peers have become more important than his parents, as far as making decisions goes. As I mentioned earlier - good luck to anyone in our house trying to gain access to our bathroom between the hours of 7am – 8am and then again from 7.30 pm – 8.30pm.
Yes, my adolescent has started "trying on" different looks and identities, and he has suddenly become very aware of how his look differs to the look of his peers which results in episodes of distress and conflict - with his mother.
Rebellious wild teens, continually at odds with mum and dad - that is the most common sterotype of the adolencence years. This may be the case for some teens, as this is a time of emotional turbelance, however I believe “wild teens” does not fairly represent most teens.
The primary goal of the teen years is to achieve independence. To do this, teens generally start pulling away from their parents — especially the parent whom they're the closest to.
However as teens mature, they do start to think differently - more abstractly and rationally. This is when parents of teens may find that the kids who had always been willing to conform or do as they were asked suddenly begin asserting themselves, and their opinions and rebelling against parental control.
For me this time, has had me questioning myself! I have been asking myself questions like “Should I allow his tastes and opinions to differ from my own?" or "Am I a controlling parent?," and "Do I listen to my child?"
Talk… talk… talk to kids
I remember my mother sitting me down late in the game to ‘have the talk’ I nearly died a thousand deaths, she had left it way to late and the resulting ‘chat’ was both horiffic and uncomfortable, the reality was I knew more than she did… The earlier you open the lines of communication, the better your chances of keeping them open through the teen years, talk to your child early and often, be open and honest, answer the questions about bodies, the differences between boys and girls and where babies come from, don't overload them with information — just answer their questions.
Pick Your Battles
As a teenager I pulled out all the usual tricks that teenagers do, I dyed my hair (sort of green) painted my fingernails the colour of the rainbow, and never wore the clothing my mother lovingly picked for me – rather I chose my own, I was out to shock my parents, surprisingly they never once objected, rather as they confided in me later - they felt it was better to let me experiment, with things that were temporary or harmless (like green hair!), they chose to pick the battles and saved their objections for things that really mattered like boys, cigarettes, drugs, tattoos and alcohol. I thank them for that.
My son came home from school last week and told me I needed to buy him deoderant as all the kid’s at school had it. This was a battle I chose to have, so I said no, I did not want him piling chemicals under his arms, he did not at the age of 11 need the stuff – but it did open up a different conversation come bath time. I again mentioned to him what he thought was a pimple, on his chin. He now washes his face every night with my foaming facial wash, which includes natural Manuka honey and Kiwifruit extract, a strategic move on my part. I do not want to wait for pimples to arrive only to have him apply chemical loaded facewashes to his face. I am all about picking the battles, and I also noticed him using it before school today.
Love, Rules & Expectations
Finding the right balance of love and discipline, liberties with limitations, and independence with responsibility is as important during the adolescent years as it is during the toddler years. Adolescents need to feel secure, valued, and loved. They might act unhappy about the expectations their parents place on them, such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and sticking to the house rules. If parents have clear expectations, teens will likely try to meet them, while testing them at the edges. I apply this to sport as well. I was raised with the mantra that ‘Kids in sport stay out of court’, and I have used this approach with my son, so… yes I am a football mom.
Times – they have changed
Remember when we were kids – we played with bikes, skipping ropes, our mobile phone was two tin cans and a piece of string – this has all changed, our children live in a hyper-connected world, and its not always friendly!
Thanks to the Internet, kids have access to tons of information. Be aware of what yours read and watch. In our house I have set limits on the amount of time being spent in front of the computer (including my time), but it is a good idea to know what they are reading online and who they are communicating with online.
I am sure you have all heard about Amanda Todd, the Canadian teenager who posted a video on Youtube with the use of flash cards, telling her heartbreaking story of being abused, bullied, harassed, and stalked online and in person then tragically, took her own life as a result of cyber bullying. We have communicated with Carol, Amanda’s mother and as an organisation we are very proud to take part in ‘Light it Purple’ in memory of Amanda. The advice I have taken from Carol is:
1. Don't be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer and who they may be communicating with online.
2. Teens shouldn't have unlimited access to the Internet in private — these should be public activities, and computers should not be kept in bedrooms.
3. Access to technology also should be limited, cell phones and computers off are off limits after a certain time.
Remind your teen to practice these basic safety rules:
- Don't share personal information online.
- Don't share passwords.
- Don't meet-up with someone you meet online.
- Don't use texts or online websites to gossip, bully or damage someone's reputation.
- Don't text or chat on the phone while driving.
- Talk to a parent or trusted adult if an online conversation, message or text makes you uncomfortable.
Warning, trouble ahead
The teenage years are all about change, change for you as the parent and change for the teenager – that is normal! Drastic or long-lasting change or a rapid shift in personality and behavior may be a sign of real trouble, the kind of trouble that needs professional help.
Watch for these signs:
- Sleep problems
- Rapid and drastic changes in personality
- Extreme weight loss or gain
- Sudden change in friends
- Skipping school
- Falling grades
- Talk, jokes or references to suicide
- Signs of tobacco, alcohol or drugs
We should all expect a glitch or two during the teenage years, but experts say unusual behavior that lasts more than six weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble. Your normally outgoing teenager should not suddenly become withdrawn, grades should not suddenly drop for no apparent reason, ongoing sleep or anxiety – these are all signs that your teenager needs help. Your doctor or psychologist or psychiatrist can help you find proper counseling.
No matter what the teenager tells you, bedtime for a teenager should be age appropiate, just like when they were little. Teens still need about 8 – 9 hours of sleep each night. You know yourself when you are sleeping well, life seems better and more balanced. The same goes for your teenager. In my house when the sleeping goes out the window (school holiday’s are a classic example of this) the wheels fall off for my glass half full son.
Teenagers are like tender plants that need to be nurtured. Teenagers know this better than we do, yet they still try to deny it! Good nutrition is vital for good health. Teenage bodies are still growing, as are their brains. They must be supplied with the right amounts of the right foods in the right balance. A diet of burgers, pizza, french fries and fizzy drinks is not going to build up a healthy body. Teenagers need a good, healthy balance of the different food groups in the right amount. They also need plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to get the vitamins and trace minerals essential to good health.
The brain as well as the body needs adequate nutrition. The brain needs plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids, especially DHA, to support a healthy growing brain and body. Omega 3 is found in oily fish – notoriously abesnt in the teenage diet – and some nuts. (Your granny was correct, fish is brain food!!) The brain also needs a variety of proteins and vitamins to create the nutro-tansmitters that allow it to work properly and quickly. You might want to consider a quiality vitamin supplement like Total Balance Childrens and supplemental fish oils like Omega Minis.
Light at the end of the tunnel
By that I mean will this ever be over?! As children progress through the teen years, you will notice a slowing of the highs and the lows of adolesence times. Eventually, with the right guidance, your child has the best chance to become an independent, responsible, well rounded communicative young adult. Your child might even want to be seen in the supermarket with you again!
I would love to hear your thoughts on raising teenagers and any tips that you have to share would be welcomed. Good luck on your quest to create a happy, healthy and fufilling family life while bringing up happy healthy teenagers.