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Understanding Adolescence & How to Handle the Process

So, you have survived through the midnight feedings, toddler’s temper tantrums and the ‘first day at school’ struggles. Then why does the word ‘teenage’ cause you any more terror? When you take into consideration that the teenage years are not only about physical but also about emotional growth, it is understandable why it is  a phase of confusion and disruption for many parents.

Despite most adults’ negative perception about teenagers, they are, in fact, very energetic, thoughtful and, most importantly, idealistic. They tend to have a decent understanding of what’s just and right. Therefore, in spite of this typically being a period of conflict and friction between the parents and the children, the teen years are also the right time to help the children to grow into the distinct human beings they will become.

Understanding Adolescence

We need to understand that there’s no fixed timeline for adolescence to start or end. Everyone’s body develops differently and at a different speed. There are just as many late bloomers as there are early bloomers. Some go through a speedy development while some develop at a relatively slow and steady pace. There is a wide range of being normal.

However, it is important to understand the difference  between puberty and adolescence. Most of us think that puberty is all about the development of adult sexual characteristics, that is, breasts, menstrual periods, pubic hair, facial hair, etc. These are certainly the most visible indications of puberty, but children who show these changes (8 to 14 year olds) can also be going through various other changes that manifest internally, within their psyche . These invisible changes are the markers of adolescence.

Most children announce the onset of adolescence through the dramatic change in their behaviour, especially around their parents. They start becoming more and more private and start emotionally separating themselves from their parents. They start getting increasingly aware of how others, especially their friends, perceive them and try really hard to fit in. Often, the opinion of these friends become much more important to them as far as making decisions goes.

Children start ‘trying on’ different looks and start experimenting with their appearances. They start becoming more and more aware of how they differ from their friends, which often results in episodes of distress, conflict and emotional rollercoaster.

Butting Heads/Understanding Conflicts

One of the most common stereotypes of teenagers is that they are rebellious, wild and in constant disagreement with their parents. Although it may be the case for some teenagers, this stereotype definitely is not a correct representation of most teenagers. Do understand that adolescence is the time where most emotional ups and downs take place.

The primary goal for the teens here is to achieve independence and to do that, they need to start pulling themselves away from their parents, especially from the one that they have the closest rapport with . This may oftentimes  feel like they are always against their parents or that they do not wish to be around them the way they used to before.

As teenagers mature, they start thinking more logically and rationally. They start forming their own moral code. Parents may find that children who previously had been willing to please them, suddenly start asserting themselves and their opinions more strongly, rebelling against parental control.

You will need to look closely at how much personal space and freedom you provide your teenagers and ask yourself questions like:

  • Am I a controlling parent?
  • Do I listen to my son/daughter?
  • Do I let my teen’s opinions and tastes differ from my own?

How to Handle Adolescence – Tricks & Tips

Here are some of the tricks and tips you may want to try when handling your child’s adolescence:

Relate Yourself

Start by reading books about teenagers. Think back on your own experiences as a teenager. Remember your own struggles with acne, embarrassing moments and everything you went through as a teenager. Always expect light showers in your typically sunny child and be prepared for conflicts and difference of opinions as your son/daughter matures as an individual person. It is much easier to cope up with things when you know what’s coming your way. Remember, the more you understand your children, the easier it is to help them grow.

Talk to the Children Early & Often

Start talking and educating the children about menstruation cycles or wet dreams beforehand. Answer the early questions they have about their bodies. No matter how awkward you may be, it’s better to answer “Where do babies come from?” when they are younger. Don’t overload them with information. All you need is to answer their questions in the simplest  way. In case you don’t have the right answers, get them from a trusted friend or a psychician.

You know your children better than anyone else. You can hear when they start telling jokes about sex or when their attention to appearance starts increasing. This would be the right time to start asking the following questions:

  • Do you notice any changes in your body?
  • Are you having any kind of strange feelings?
  • Do you sometimes feel sad without knowing the reason?

Hold the ‘Discussion’

A yearly physical examination is a great way to carry out probing questions. A doctor can easily tell your child, and you, what to expect from the near future, say next couple of years or so. A physical examination can be a perfect time for a good parent-child discussion, aka, ‘the birds and the bees talk’. The longer you wait for these discussions, the more likely it is for your child to be misinformed and be more humiliated, or worse, scared of all the physical and emotional changes. On the other hand, the earlier you hold the discussion, the higher will be your chances at keeping your children open throughout their teenage years.

One of the best ways for you to help them is to give them books about puberty and to share your own experiences as a teenager. For a teenager, there is absolutely nothing better than knowing that their parents went through the same struggles and the emotional rollercoaster when they were younger.

Select Your Battles Wisely

Here’s the thing, your teenager, from time to time, will want to do things you might not like. Things like dying their hair, painting their fingernails or wearing funky clothes. In such cases, the best practice would be to consider their perspective before voicing your objection. . Teenagers are always looking for a chance to shock their parents, but it is always better to let them do something that’s temporary and harmless. Save your objections for more serious things and important matters, such as tobacco, drugs, alcohol or a permanent change to their appearance.

Ask your teenagers why they want to dress up a certain way and try to understand their point of view. You might want to discuss how others might see them if they looked different. Help your children understand how he/she might be perceived.

Know the Warning Signs

A certain amount of changes are normal during the adolescent years. However, too drastic or long lasting a switch might be the signal to get professional help.

  • Extreme weight gain/loss
  • Sleep problems
  • Rapid or drastic change in personality/behaviour
  • Drastic change in friends
  • Frequent skipping of school
  • Declining grades
  • Talking or joking about suicide
  • Signs of drug, alcohol, tobacco or substance abuse

Any other inappropriate behaviour that lasts any longer than 6 weeks can be a sign of an underlying trouble. You may observe a minor glitch in your child’s behaviour and/or grades during this period, however if an A/B student suddenly starts failing or scoring poorly, or an outgoing child suddenly starts withdrawing, that’s a sign for you to contact your nearest counsellor or a psychiatrist.

Will This Be Over?

As children progress through adolescence, you will notice a slowing of the ups and downs of teenage-hood. Eventually, your children will become independent, responsible, communicative and morally strong young adults.