By Mathieu Morin, Youth counsellor at Valcartier Family Center
* Warning: this article contains a lot of generalizations and exaggerations!
He was glued to you, open and took an active part in the family life. Overnight, your child is gone: he spends his time chilling on his cellphone, seems closed like an oyster, and says words that make you wonder if he speaks a new language. You have spent hours on the internet and thought of consulting a specialist to explain this sudden change, then the diagnosis is made: your child is now a teenager.
He doesn’t know it yet, but it will be one of the most challenging and beautiful times of his life. Guiding him through these troubled times may be your biggest challenge as parents. It’s a cliché: there are no manuals and each teen is unique. Here are a few things that may help you understand and support your new teen.
Adolescence: an important transition
What makes your teen so unpredictable is that they have to develop their own identity. If you asked them, many adults would find it difficult to define who they really are, so imagine a 12, 14 or 17 year old! However, knowing who you are allows you to develop your strengths and has a direct impact on your self-esteem.
That’s what adolescence is all about: becoming a responsible adult with his or her own identity, who will contribute to society and the survival of the species. It comes with many physical and psychological changes that are not mentioned in advance. Your child must therefore go through all these challenges, but also deal with increasing social pressure, meet academic demands and define a future. Learning to become oneself involves all kinds of experiences, tests and questioning of family values and established rules and, of course, many headaches for the parents. Rest assured, it’s all normal! He will dissociate himself from you, without losing the unconscious ways and attitudes common to the family (he is your child, after all, he was not shaped by the neighbour!).
One of the most common mistakes (for counsellors too, for that matter) is to get caught up in your new physique and believe that your maturity has followed. He has more of a beard than some middle-aged men, is taller than his father, and has a voice like the singer of Metallica; but his reckless behaviour gets him into trouble and his reasoning seems so immature to you! It’s because the physical and psychological developments haven’t quite coincided: one comes before the other. The Guilty? The prefrontal cortex, the seat of reasoning and decision making, is not very eager to “connect”. Be of good courage, it will come… between 20 and 25 years old!
Parenting is a thankless job!
“Thank you Mom and Dad for paying for my clothes and washing them, for preparing meals, for all those lifts from one neighbourhood to the next and for always coming up behind me to make sure I don’t forget anything! “Be prepared to never hear a sentence like that again for the next few years. If you’re lucky, it might come up on your birthday, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, and maybe Christmas. This lack of explicit recognition ends up demoralizing many parents, and rightly so! Rest assured: your child is very grateful and very attached to you, although this is not always visible. You’ll see this especially in their fragile moments: you’ll be the first people they turn to when they feel most vulnerable. Don’t worry, they’ll ask you for help or advice when they really need it (like, when it matters most!).
Finally, some advice from the field:
Here are some strategies to adopt, as they say, put the odds on your side with your teen:
Trust yourself: Too many parents experience the impostor syndrome when they realize they understand their child less. Yet, you are the first expert on your teen. Listen to your intuitions and don’t be afraid to make decisions. If you can explain to your child why you make one decision over another, it’s probably the right one.
Trust him: Your child will have difficulty gaining independence and self-confidence if he doesn’t feel it from you. Let him make his own decisions and grow with his mistakes by learning, rather than doing everything in his place to prevent failures. The same goes for his social activities: trust him until proven otherwise, respecting the established rules.
Find balance in the supervision of your child: Some parents are stricter than others, which is fine. But as the expression goes “too much is like not enough”, too much discipline or too lenient supervision is counterproductive: your child may rebel or be very difficult to supervise if he or she hasn’t been supervised before. The important thing is that the rules are clear (and enforced!) and that the child understands them.
Give appropriate consequences: Your teen will understand more if the punishment for a wrongdoing is linked to their actions (eg letter of apology for insulting someone, repair or reimbursement of a broken object, cleaning of graffiti , etc.). Giving him universal or disproportionate consequences will make him obey you out of fear of them more than for understanding.
Ask for help if needed: He’ll do anything to prove you wrong, but you are still your teen’s first model. Being your child’s expert doesn’t mean being infallible. Accepting your vulnerability and that you don’t have all the answers is just human; and your teen will realize that they too have the right to be imperfect. We all are, anyway!
P.S. The use of the masculine gender is meant to lighten the text; but what is true for a boy is just as true for a girl!
Any questions? That’s what we’re here for!