How do we adapt to the needs of our adolescent children?
Throughout life’s developmental milestones we receive benchmarks to indicate that our children are growing and developing at a healthy pace. When our children are infants and miss or fall short of these expectations attention is received from parents, pediatricians and teachers.
“When we are very young the only approval we need is the approval of our parents and as we go through adolescence we make this transition where now we need the approval of our peers.” Simon Sinek
Moving into adolescence, the milestones are not as clearly defined therefore our response can feel more confusing. Indicators that an adolescents’ emotional and mental growth is struggling is reflected in behavioral changes. This includes depression, anti-social behavior, acting out, changes in grades, isolation, self-harm, and drug use.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines adolescents as those people between 10 and 19 years of age.
Adolescence is a time of finding balance between self-discovery, incorporating parents’ expectations and seeking approval from peers. Even in rejection teenagers still need their parents. Learning how to continue caregiving during emotionally volatile times is important.
Families need consistency and structure to foster a positive home environment.
- Teenagers need acceptance to try to do things on their own even if it is different than our way.
- Letting adolescents know they matter through active listening and interest in who they are becoming and what they are doing.
- Knowing when school, friends and life feels hard there is a soft place to land and unconditional love at home.
- Maintain structure and care despite rejection and moodiness.
- Eat meals together.
- Maintaining our role as parent means creating consistent routines and schedules even when adolescence is testing independence and parent separation.
- Acknowledging their thoughts and feelings as valid and important.
- Teach through example.
- There is a difference between rejecting bad behavior and rejecting a person.
As parents we like to take credit for the good behavior in our child and downplay our role in what could be perceived as negative. When we approach parenting decisions we go in with the best of intentions sometimes resulting in an unfavorable outcome.
Our current culture highlights an emphasis on equal treatment a “sticker” for everyone, regardless of what was achieved but that one tried. This is a good intention to contribute to the development of healthy self-esteem and inclusion but undermines some basic needs of inner drive for challenge, physical and emotional growth. These are all necessary contributors to our individual evolution.
Adults and children know the satisfaction and pride in accepting an honor based on achievement that has been earned. The encouragement that inspires us to strive to be the best version of ourselves grows through the times we are challenged.
Developmental Needs of Adolescents (Elizabeth Ann Clune, 2017)
- Meaningful Participation in Communities
- Independence and Responsibility
- Positive Communication with Adults and Peers
- Development of Personal Vision
- Creative Expression
- Competency and Achievement
- Physical Activity
- Structure and Clear Limits
As we see our children go through unexpected challenges it is important for them to know there is a solid foundation for them to get up and try again. Perfection doesn’t exist for our children or in parenting but we do have the ability be consistent, reliable, loving, and understanding.
What happens when our life’s challenges give us the feeling that we have lost control? We are stressed in our personal relationship, our children are struggling or we have lost a job. Our anxiety is high, our negative inner voice is heavy with chatter and cortisol is triggered in our brain.
Fortunately, control is not the only way for us to feel safe during these uncertain times. Loretta G. Breuning, Ph.D proposes some activities for our brain that will “re-wire your brain to feel safe when you’re not in control.” She recommends that the repetition of a thought or behavior for forty-five days can have a transformative effect.
Giving yourself the opportunity to think or behave differently during times when you feel out of control will initially generate uncomfortable feelings but ultimately over time create a feeling of safety. Thereby giving us the ability to survive uncertainty.
Growth happens in the dark times. A seed is planted in the dark soil then given water and sun to help it grow towards the light as it transforms during the process. We have the ability to tolerate discomfort when things are out of control and with support can feel safe while we navigate new feelings and behaviors.
When we are in control it increases our happiness. We have a sense of organization, security and independence when we are in charge. Control is about perception. This perception influences how we think, feel and react to a situation. There is comfort in predictability. It decreases our anxiety and helps us feel safe.
“Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered…” Angus Campbell
To feel in control is ideal but life is unpredictable. Understanding that we have the ability to re-claim our autonomy is empowering.
Learn more about your mammal brain and building new neural pathways.
Loretta G. Breuning Ph.D. book
Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels