Teenagers are at a stage where they feel like they are adults already because of the way they look, but at heart they are still children. With hormonal imbalances and a lot more going on in their bodies, they are sometimes at a loss to properly deal with a lot of situations.
They are at a very critical point in their lives; they need their parents/teachers to care and give them a sense of belonging, but they will never ask for it.
If teenagers feel like their parents/teachers are not on their side, always criticizing, always punishing and always judging their every move with no real conversations flowing, they will feel out of place in their own homes/schools.
With this happening, teenagers can lose sight of what’s right and wrong, seek support from other people which may not be the best option for them.
This phase will ultimately end. Teenagers will either finish it off a positive boost into adulthood or they will enter it as confused adults with low self-esteem and a sense of loss.
Why are teenagers so difficult?
It’s actually normal! According to scientific research, there are two important systems in a teenager’s brain that don’t mature at the same time:
A system that matures around puberty: responsible for seeking obvious reward (like popularity among friends) and excitement (like breaking the rules).
A system that matures in their mid-twenties: responsible for self-control.
Consider that many things can affect your children to behave the way they do:
- Changes happening in their body with puberty: Body changes can cause distorted self-image and hormonal changes can cause mood swings.
- Their need to prove that they are becoming adults and need to be independent (which can cause them to rebel against rules).
- Things happening at the house: siblings' jealousy, family dispute, financial struggles that teenagers are aware of…etc.
- Things happening at school: studying load, bullying, being rejected or excluded by friends or classmates…etc.
- Not being able to express their fears and worries for fear of judgement, criticism or punishment.
- Not getting enough sleep or healthy nutrition.
Listening to your children is a skill
Teenagers often say that you know nothing about what it’s like to be a teenager. In order to understand what your teenager is going through, you need to listen to them:
- Choose a moment where your teenage children are in a good mood. Ask them to tell you about something that happened during their day.
- Listen carefully and make sure you’re showing these signs of being a good listener: Showing them a friendly, interested face, nodding, leaning slightly forward and looking them in the eye
- Avoid interrupting them and wait till they finish
- Ask them questions to show you’re interested: (And then what happened? What did you do?)
- Avoid judging and lecturing them if they say they’ve done something wrong. This might discourage them from telling you later on. Wait until they finish and think of possible ways to address this negative behavior later.
- Now, switch roles and ask your teenage children to listen to you while you tell them something that happened to you.
- Talk with your teenage children about what it feels like to be listened to. Do they feel you understand them better?
To make them listen you, try ‘positive request’ rather than ‘order’
A positive request is asking a person to do something, not to stop doing something.
“Come early” instead of “do not be late like you always do”
How to make a positive request?
- Make eye contact
- Define exactly what you would like him/her to do (For example: Please clean your room).
- Tell them how it would make you feel (For example: It would be very helpful if you clean your room).
- Use phrases that reflect respect and appreciation like: “I would like you to….”, “I would really appreciate it if you would do….”, “It’s very important to me that you help me with..”
- Always praise your children when they do what you requested.
How to manage negative or challenging behavior?
When your children ignore your requests or breaks a rule you two agreed upon, how do you “positively” tell them that he/she are acting in an unpleasant or distasteful manner?
Express that you have negative feelings towards this negative behavior
- Look at them; speak firmly.
- Say exactly what he or she did that upset you (I feel bad when you……)
- Tell him or her how/ what can happen to help the situation (I would appreciate if you could….)
- Suggest how they might prevent this from happening in the future. (In the future I suggest you...)
Introducing consequences vs punishment
Consequences are different than punishments.
Types of consequences:They are opportunities for your children to learn that their actions will have an impact on themselves and others. They can help teach children independence, decision-making, and responsibility.
- Natural Consequences: Consequences that require no interference from parents. They are a natural result of a teenager’s behavior.
- Example: “If you do not put your clothes in the laundry basket, you will not have any clean clothes to wear.”
- Logical Consequences: Consequences that are a result of a specific behavior such as not complying to rules.
- Example: “If you come home late, you don’t get time out tomorrow.”
How to introduce consequences for not following rules?
- Identify misbehavior: What you want your children to do and what you don’t want them to do
- Give a clear consequence if this misbehavior happens: Use “if-then” statements as above
- When it happens, apply the consequences immediately after to make the link clear
- Tell them the reason why they are getting the consequence
- Praise them if they follow the rules
Help them solve their problems
Sometimes your children are behaving in a negative way because they’re stressed or worried about another problem. While it’s important to let your children be independent and try figuring things out on their own, you need to let them know they can always come to you for help. They can be having trouble studying for a certain subject, or there could be someone who’s bothering them at school.
Problems solving steps:
- Clearly define the problem
- Think together of possible solutions, encourage them to come up with two or more solutions.
- Talk with your teenager about each solution and how he/she would feel about it. “I wouldn’t be comfortable with this because..” or “That sounds like something I can do because..”.
- Choose the solution that seems best and try it out.
- Talk and follow up with your teenager: Did the solution work?
- Be something different than what they use for a reward. Example: if a reward is spending more time with their friends, the consequence cannot be cancelling their time out with friends.
- Include apologizing If the negative behavior affects another person. Example: “If you break someone’s stuff, you have to apologize and help them fix it.”
Consequences MUST NOT:
- Include physical punishment.
- Deprives teenagers of a right like food or going to school. It can rather be restricting a privilege like decreasing time with friends or adding responsibilities like doing more chores.
Here are some everyday situations that parents, teachers, trainers and other caregivers go through and how to deal with them
I feel my daughter is hiding something, how can I help her spell it out?
- Share and reflect on your experience: if you’re suspecting something specific, find a moment through the day (or create it by going out for a bite) to share with her a similar situation that you went through at her age and how telling an adult was helpful.
- Humanize (rather than idolize) yourself: admit that you (like everybody else) made, make and will make mistakes and that the important thing is to learn from them. Ask her what she would for if she was in your shoes back then and discuss without judgement.
- Make her feel needed: Ask for her opinion on a problem you’re currently facing, or to explain a reference you didn’t understand on social media, or her advice on what to eat for the day, etc.
- Build a daily sharing routine: start the conversation yourself on general then specific issues to open channels with your daughter. Tell her about interesting moments in your day: work, family, friends, things you saw on social media, etc. and ask her how was her day as well. She might not respond at first, but when she feels that you’re there for her, you care to share your life with her, you won’t judge her and need her, she will gradually open up to you.
My daughter suffers from body shaming and distorted self-image, how can I help her overcome this feeling?
- Talk to her about how important it is to take care of our body and health yet, at the same time, never let it be an obsession or a source of frustration.
- Explain to her that beauty is very subjective. Show her positive examples of women with great achievements despite their humble look.
- Make sure that she understands that, in reality, not everything is as fancy as it looks on the internet.
- Focus on her strengths so she would believe in them: Keep talking about the points of strength that she has (such as kindness, good manners, intelligence…etc.) as much as you can.
- Teach her how to respond to bullies.
- Encourage her to take action towards a healthier body (not necessarily a better-looking one) such as eating healthy food and exercising.
What should I do if I find that my son is involved in unhealthy practices (such as smoking, watching porn, etc.)?
Your action should be divided to three phases
- Before you decide it’s the right time for informing your child that you know about the behavior, it might be a good idea to make him/her confess it if you succeed in creating a safe space between both of you.
- Talk more frequently in different situations and times about the seriousness of this bad habit and how its negative short and long-term impacts. This could be, for example, during dinner time by discussing a credible piece of content you read online or an experience by a friend or relative.
- Focus on the negative consequences on the things that matter to your child the most (health, money, social life, etc.).
- Keep following up with your child (or the person you delegated for confrontation) after the incidence.
- Praise the progress, show understanding and support on the challenges and reflect on the whole situation as it resolves.
- Educate your child with credible information on the same topic (for example, if the incidence is watching porn, provide them with material on sex education).
- This could happen either through you or, if you’re afraid of losing your temper, through a friend, relative, teacher or a trainer that your child is attached to.
- If you’re picking someone else, make sure it’s someone whom you trust, your child will listen to and won’t be judgmental. Agree on what to be said and the possible scenarios for your child’s reaction.
- It should be clear to your child that you won’t allow this unhealthy practice to continue, yet you will do everything you can for overcoming this ‘together’, because you love and support your child unconditionally.
- Involve the child in putting a realistic plan that you both agree on to stop this unhealthy practice. Agree on the consequences of not adhering to this plan.
- If the unhealthy habit is threatening to the child (such as addiction), consult a medical professional immediately
My son is very intelligent, but he barely studies, what shall I do?
- Be realistic: as a parent, you should know that as much as ‘intelligence’ is a skill, ‘hard work’ is a different skill that might not be among your son’s skills. We should always support our children to reach their full potential, but sometimes we have to accept that this is the best they could do and stop pressuring them on academia but, rather, explore their talents in other areas such as art and sports to try to find out what they excel at.
- Show understanding: Show your child that you understand that it’s hard for him to sit for long hours to study something he doesn’t like and that you appreciate that he or she does that to make you feel happy and to be able to have more time to play later on.
- Seek help: some children may have disorders that hinder their academic abilities such as ADHD. Consult a doctor in case your child’s academic performance is severely affected because of the lack of focus.
- Put rules together: start asking him what can you do to help him focus more and feel better about studying, listen to him and reach an agreement where each of you is committed to something and gives something in return (for example, if he likes hot cakes, bake him a cake and agree that he can have it as hot as he likes it only if he finishes studying this part in time).
- Agree on the consequences: make him choose what would be the consequence (rather than the punishment) of not adhering to the rules you agreed on together.
- Think out of the box: if you’re son is having trouble with a certain subject, try to use some creativity to relate what he studies to something he likes. For example, if he likes sports and hates math, try using math to explain a sports concept like tournaments and points calculation.