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View October 2008 Issue >>
 

Help! My Teen Thinks I Am the Enemy

The teen years can be difficult for both teenagers and their parents.  As your teen goes through the physical and emotional changes of growing up, you may find yourself feeling worried, frustrated and stressed.  Maybe you feel as though you are losing your son or daughter.  You miss the talks you used to have and the closeness you used to feel and you wonder how you can connect with the sullen teenager in your home.  How can you avoid being an ‘enemy’ to your teen and, instead, provide a positive influence?

Understanding your teen
One word captures the feeling for both parents and adolescents during the teenage years - ‘awkward’.  Even though your child may treat you like the enemy, the truth is that they just want to know that you understand what they are going through.  It's important to remember the physical and emotional changes that are going on inside your teen. 

Physical changes often don't come at a time or in a way that our children desire.  They may develop too late or too early. Having his voice change late can be agonising for a boy, just as not developing at the same rate as her friends can be devastating for a girl.  Both sexes have trouble with their skin and when appearance is suddenly so very important, these physical changes are very upsetting to many teens. 

Teens' emotions are fragile.  Little things like socks that don't match an outfit or hair that won't curl properly can be very upsetting to your child because, at this time in their lives, they are afraid of being embarrassed and desperately want to fit in.  Their feelings are real and need to be acknowledged.

Friends are very important during this time because friends help define who they are.  Sometimes teens try on different personality types to see what fits best.  It can be exhausting for parents who are trying to figure out who their child really is.  Remember that it is equally frustrating to the child who isn't sure who they want to be just yet.

Often teens question their faith.  They ask: “Why should I believe what I have been taught?”  Be open to answering any questions your teen might have regarding faith and spiritual matters.  If you don't know a particular answer to a question, be honest.  Take that opportunity to spend some time with your teen and do the research together.

What parents go through
Parents feel afraid.  Suddenly you feel as if you don't know what you are doing. You ask yourself if you are making wise decisions.  Deciding to let a teen go to a particular party seems more crucial than deciding if a six-year-old daughter should take ballet.  You begin to wonder if you really know what your child is thinking.  It is sometimes so difficult to get them to talk to you and you may fear the unknown.  You may question what is going on in their lives and why it feels as though you are no longer a part of it.

You may feel as if you are losing control.  Teens can have very persuasive arguments and your judgement is often questioned.  You may ask yourself if your reasoning is right after all.  You may struggle with expectations.  What is realistic to expect from your teen?  What about boundaries and curfews?  Television and movies?  Family time? When do you insist and when do you let go?

Ten needs of every teen
While both you and your child are so confused during this time, it is very important that you learn how to connect with them so that they draw closer to you instead of pulling further away.  Fulfilling the needs (not necessarily wants) of your teenager will enable you to forge strong, life-lasting friendships with them.  So what are their needs?

1. Time
Time together doesn't have to be a big deal or take a lot of effort.  Even fifteen minutes playing a quick game of cricket speaks volumes.  Be available for your child, no matter how busy you or they are.  If they know you are there for them, they are more likely to come to you when they need help or someone to talk to.

2.  Respect
Asking our teens opinions on different things lets them know you are interested in what they think.  Their input is valuable and important.  You may not agree with your teen's viewpoints, but you need to respect them as people and be willing to hear their ideas.  If you are making big decisions (such as moving house, going on holiday, changing schools, etc) it is important to ask what they think about the situation.  Teens want to know that their opinion counts.

3.  Hope
Occasionally your teen will encounter a problem that they are sure is going to ruin their life - for example, needing to get braces or tripping in front of the most popular boy in school.  Things that are of such acute importance to him or her now, will not be as important given time and perspective.  When a child feels shaky about themselves, they don't need a panicky mom or an insensitive dad who is equally upset about the issue.  They need empathy and confidence.

4.  Concern for their friends
It is important to do whatever you can to make your home a place where your teen feels comfortable to bring his friends.  Children are attracted to a caring atmosphere and a place where they feel welcome.  Get involved in your child's friends’ lives without being too involved.  You get to know your children when you spend time with their friends.  Drive the car pool, volunteer to go on field trips where parents are needed, go to the school plays and sporting events. 

What should you do if you don't like your child's friends?  Be very careful.  Spend time with them and get to know them.  Have them in your home.  Teenagers often change friends frequently so the friend you are not so fond of may disappear all on their own.  However, if it is obvious that your child's friends are having a negative impact on him or her, you may need to seek help.  Consult a teacher, youth minister or counsellor and have them guide you through the best way to approach the situation. 

5.  Boundaries
Teens need boundaries and they need freedom.  You need to carefully choose where to stand firm and where to let go.  As parents you need to decide on what the crucial issues are for your family.  Decide on what the basic rules are and explain these clearly to your children.  Explain why these rules are in place and what will happen if these rules are broken.  Then you need to be consistent - "no" means "no" and not "maybe, if you argue enough".  A teen sees right through a parent who is wishy-washy and that parent becomes a 'wimp' in the mind of the teen.

If you are firm with your children when they are young, the teen years will be less difficult. Often parents do just the opposite; they are relaxed in the early years and then come down too hard on their children as teens.  The teen years should have parameters but there should also be a gradual lessening of rules by the parents and the entrusting of self-discipline to the child.

6.  Flexibility
No matter how busy you are you need to take time out of your day to respond to your children when they need you.  Perhaps they need you to take them to a friend's house when you had planned to do something else, or maybe they want to talk to you just when you have started working on your computer.  You need to be flexible enough to sometimes put your needs on hold. So take the time to help your teen and show them you are there for them, within reason.

7.  Understanding
Show your children that you understand what they are going through. For instance, if they come home distressed with a bad result in a subject even although they worked extremely hard, encourage them with a similar story from your school days.  When your children know you understand them they will be more willing to share their feelings with you.

8.  Other adult friends
It is important to have adult friends your children can depend on.  These friends need to share the same values that you do and reinforce what you teach in your home.  Often children want to seek advice from an adult but may be too afraid to approach you.  Have friends in your child's life that you can both trust and will be there for your children.  Often advice received from someone outside of the family is taken better than if it came from you.

Children need adult role models in their lives other than their parents - adults who will encourage them, listen to their problems and reinforce the values that you feel are important.

9.  Knowing that Mom and Dad love each other
The greatest thing you can do for your child is to love their dad or mom.  In a single-parent situation, of course, this is not possible.  But for those who are still married, it may be the most important gift you can give.  Your children need to hear you complimenting your spouse, not cutting him/her down behind their backs.  Express affection freely and build each other up.  Your child will feel secure when he or she knows that you have a good relationship with your spouse.

If you are going through a divorce you need to be aware of the extent that this affects your teen and go through the necessary counselling with your child.  Fighting and divorce traumatises the child during an already difficult period in their lives and you need to ensure that they receive as much support as possible.

10.  Consistent role models
Your most important role as a parent is to live with integrity.  You need to keep the same standards you set for your children.  Sometimes you will fail and, when you do, you need to admit that you are wrong and ask for forgiveness.  This can be hard for parents, but saying that you are sorry can open the door to greater communication with your teenager.

Building a lasting relationship with your teen
You can cultivate a friendship with your teen that will last into adulthood, and you need a strong, healthy relationship with your child to have a positive impact on his or her life.  Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.  When your teen knows that you love her beyond all measure, when she knows you enjoy being with her, she'll be more willing to believe that your guidance is motivated by caring.  She'll be more likely to accept the idea that the rules and values you want to pass along are in her best interest. 

Steps you can take to build your relationship with your teen:

·          show empathy

·          respect their opinions

·          be fun to be around

·          don't ridicule

·          forgive when they mess up

·          be honest

·          listen intently

·          be a friend

No parent is perfect, but every parent can take the time to build a strong relationship with their teenager.  You don't have to be the enemy!

This article is based on the book: ‘Help, my teen thinks I am the enemy’ by Dr. Bill Maier; published by Focus on the Family.  To find out more about this topic and to cover areas such as dealing with rebellious teens, this is an excellent resource.  Focus on the Family are giving away 5 copies.  To stand a chance of winning, send your details to:

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