When our children face adolescence and the inevitable struggle with this transition, the best way we can help them is often to help ourselves!
A famous poet wrote :
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint”
Surprisingly, this was written in the 8th century by Hesiod, a greek poet.
It seems that just as our Gen Y children think that they are the first generation to break free of the status quo of their parents ways of life, the parents of today’s children think they are the first generation to face such a prolific generation gap with their children. The truth is neither are the first to face this. The truth is ; this gap between parent and child has occurred through all previous generations ; it is inevitble and this gap grows during adolescence.
Ultimately this coming of age process, that adolescents and parents both struggle with, is less of a problem to be fixed and more of a right of passage that parent and child need to acknowledge as an essential and unavoidable phase of development. To the degree it is negotiated well, it forms the foundations of adulthood within the child.
The task for parents here is finding useful ways of negotiating through what can often become a very charged and confusing period of parenting.
Of course there are as many ways to negotiate adolescance as there are children ,and yet regardless of a parnet’s approach, there are some useful dynamics to consider through this process.
To put the teenage to adult transition into perspective here are some of the major milestones and developmental tasks faced by adolescents.
- Aquiring more mature relations, same and other sex, in their age group.
- Resolving their masculine or feminine roles.
- Accepting the physical changes they experience.
- Finding emotional independence.
- Identifying and working towards their chosen career path.
- Crystalising a set of values and ethics – becoming consistent in their approach to life and others.
- Becoming socially responsible.
With these milestones in mind, there are many ways in which parents are challenged and confronted with how best to negotiate with their adolescent to achieve these tasks safely and without interrupting their child’s development.
The best way to raise a child to adulthood is to ensure that you you yourself are sufficiently raised first.
Parents don’t fail teenagers in adolescence through lack of trying; parents typically fail teenagers when their own triggers and issues get in the way of healthy negotiations with their coming-of-age teenagers. When a parent negotiates with their teenager on an aspect of this transition to adulthood well the coming of age process is supported. When it is negotiated poorly, with shouting and rigid positions, coming of age is thwarted.
We now know that issues that are unresolved in paretns typically transfer down to the child and although they can lie dorment in the child for many years, when adolescence comes this can often be the time that parents realise their child has these same issues. This can be a very confronting and tomultuous process for parents and can leave them with a tricky dilemma ; how can I show my child how to accept these parts of their own growing adulthood when I have not accepted them in me?
The pendulum swing- do parents know whats best for their children.
Its reasonable to say that one part of learning how to parent is taking and using what worked from when you were a child and leaving what didn’t work for you as a child.
We all know parents, maybe its even ourselves, who have looked back on the shortcomings of how they were raised and after some consideration have decided “ I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents made with me”, or “I’ll never do to my kids what my paretns did with me”.
I call this the pendulum swing. Parents who were raised in overly restricture and conforming families often raise children with a lot of freedom and too few constraints. Alternatively, parents who were raised with too few rules, leaving them unguided or unboundaried, can often end up with a parenting approach that’s over-controlling and over imposing on their children.
I call this the pendulum swing because what happpens is an arbitrary and total spitting out of their parents approach to parenting. Resulting in a polarised or opposite approach to raising their children than the way they were raised.
This pendulum swing decision can lead to blindspots in ones approach to parenting. These blindspots typically go unnoticed in childhood, yet they are quickly pointed out once children reach adolescence.
The risk with this approach is that the parent decides on whats best for the child, based on needs that were unfulfilled in their own childhood; I call this fulfilling phantom needs. The needs are phantom because they are assumed to be important for the child, because they were important for the parent. What is often left unexplored is how important are these needs for the child and their own unique development.
So how do you get this right?
The easiest way to be able to negotiate what’s right for your child, as well as for you as the parent, is to face how you feel about the way you were raised. To understand which emotional thirsts were not quenched and what that has meant for you in your life. The more a parent understands their inner world, their unmet needs, their fears and their buried feelings towards their upbringing, the less these concerns will get in the way of seeing their children and the more they will be able to really respond to their child and see what the child truly needs.
The best and the worse in us. – How to change their behaviour through changing ours.
When parents feel that the behaviours their teenager is displaying is beyond their understanding or control, they often turn to psychologists and counsellors for help. Typically the conversation starts with “ can you see my child, theres something not ok going on”. You can imagine their surprise when they hear the therapist say “ so you think theres something wrong with your son?, ok , when can you and your spouse begin couples therapy then?”
A common dynamic when a child goes off the rails is for the parents to focus their energy on fixing the child. What goes unnoticed in this process is that typically the child is acting out due to whats going on in their parent’s relationship. Often this is hard for parents to hear, and usually its not the case that the parents have been bad or neglectful parents; its often that theres just some kind of dynamic that exists in the family that the parents may be OK with, but the child is not.
For example when there is extreme hostility between parents a child often becomes naughty or sick to unsonciously change the focus away from the fighing and back onto the child.
There are as many examples of how this plays out as as there are parents with children. Whats important to remember is that to shift the responsibility for things to change onto the parents allows the child to no longer be “the problem”. As such the child is able to then stop identifying themselves as “the problem” which of course is a very empowering shift in a child/adolescents self view.
This also allows parents to look at their children’s unwanted behaviours as clues to what may be occuring within themselves and their spousal relationship, providing them ample opportunity to grow in themselves and in their marriage.
Some basic questions to ask yourself when you are considering taking your child for counselling , or where you feel your child is behaving inappropriately , are :
- What is it that my child is doing that I don’t accept? Where doesn’t this behaviour or dynamic play out in myself and/or my marriage?
- What am I trying to change in them? Where have I not made this change myself ? How can I make that change in myself to show them how its done?
- Which rules or boundaries that my child breaks make me the angriest? When these rules are broken what feelings are under my anger? ( often its sadness, fear and powerlessness ). How can I get to understand these feelings in me?