It’s common knowledge that teenagers are emotional, volatile and moody, but believe me, I’m already feeling it with my kindergartener, who recently shoved me away hurriedly when I tried to sit in for one of her online classes (no one else had their mommies seated next to them).
So, how can we build and nurture a healthy relationship for the future?
What practices can I put in place so that my child feels open enough to discuss with me her problems, happiness and sources of distress?
The interesting definition put forth by some experts on teen development is that this phase kicks in when three criteria are met:
- The individual achieves autonomy in decision-making;
- The individual values their own decision-making process over that of others’; and
- The individual begins to realise their own separate identity.
In that sense, the “teenage” phase could very well be pushed forward by social media, which has a huge emphasis on personal identity and autonomy.
From Control, to Influence
As parents, the biggest (and toughest) shift comes along when our children begin to assume and assert their own control over their circumstances. As infants, they had no choice. As toddlers, they loved imitating and copying our every action. As young children, they saw us as role models and interpreted the world through our reactions and responses.
As they begin to transit to teenagers however, they begin to acknowledge that their perspective and feelings to certain situations, are different. Therefore, they respond differently – and they value this different response. It’s an exciting, new phase for them.
So rather than control, parents now have to transit to become the biggest influencers of their lives. Start by voicing out your train of thought and discuss how you process decisions, what motivated your decision to do certain things. For example, by voicing out why I was feeling stressed, my child realised the sheer number of things I had to consider on a daily basis, which shocked her but also widened her appreciation of my role in the family.
Every now and then, at the tender age of six, she surprises me by anticipating my considerations and lending a hand to help out. Children can be more mature than we give them credit for; and allowing her the opportunity to help me out, has significantly improved our relationship.
Parents often complained that our children do not value our contributions or take us for granted – but think of it this way. Have you nurtured them in a way to value your contributions or notice the little things? Parenthood, is not entirely a sacrifice. Sharing our burdens and worries, is not a sign of weakness, but sets an example to our children how they can process and share their own burdens and worries with the family.
Bearing the Brunt
Why are we the ones who see the worst of our children?
Why do they make us bear the brunt of their outbursts?
Sometimes, parents feel it can be extremely unfair that we, the ones who do the most for them, are the ones who experience the worst of them, while their “friends” get off scot-free.
Unfortunately, it is precisely because of our love, that they feel we are the safest targets for them to vent their emotions out on. Saying that we have to be zen and just “take it” is really hard advice to swallow, because we are human too.
While the Asian Parent tendency is to forgive and forget, or demonstrate forgiveness through quiet acts of love (e.g. buying one’s favourite food) – child development experts highlight that it is important to let teenagers know how their actions and words have hurt others; and avoid a vicious tit-for-tat cycle within the family.
Parents can also consider collaborating with another adult – it could be a grandparent, an aunt, or a family friend, who can undertake the role of an “alternative parent” who the child feels is easier to open up to, to help work through and understand the consequences of their hurtful actions and words.
Teenagers value their privacy, freedom and ability to autonomously make decisions – as parents find themselves gradually giving up control, they will have to adjust to creating parameters within which their pre-teens, or teens, are able to assert their free will.
At the same time, parents should also be open to listening to the opinions of their pre-teens / teenagers and walk their teenagers through their own considerations. This undoubtedly takes time, but doing so establishes trust with your pre-teen / teenager that your decision is not based on a whim or fancy. Over time, your pre-teen / teenager will question your decisions less.
A Sense of Purpose
The greatest worry that parents have is what their teenagers are up to in their free time. How are they choosing to spend their free time? What do they look for, what triggers their interest and attention?
Parents can look for opportunities to channel their interest e.g. showing them a relevant youtube channel / a relevant documentary etc, that they can spend their free time learning or watching. Sometimes, investments in helping to nurture their interest can pay off in big ways, while keeping them occupied instead of wandering (virtually) and aimlessly, which can put them at risk.