These days, teenagers are faced with challenges and temptations that have the potential for permanent and lasting consequences. There used to be a time when parents felt that Elvis Presley’s hips would be the undoing of Human Civilization, but now it seems parents have a lot more serious things to worry about. As if raising teenagers wasn’t hard enough with their mood swings, one-word answers, and snarky comments, now parents have to worry about Facebook and social networking blending the private and public worlds of teenagers. Teens are often over-scheduled, under-supervised, and over-stimulated, which can exacerbate the challenges of one of the most difficult times in a person’s life.
There are several common stressors that can inhibit average teenagers’ ability to be successful. First off, they are teenagers which means they are ‘all about themselves’, moody, would rather spend time with friends than parents, and they are working on creating their own identity. Although this is normal development, it often interferes with fulfilling the expectations of parents and teachers (and can be extremely frustrating and sometimes scary to parents).
Next is the pressure to achieve in academics, sports, relationships, after school jobs, and family responsibilities. Kids experience this pressure from peers, family, schools, and society. Because of their developmental stage, they have a heightened level of self-consciousness and often misinterpret signals from others, making them feel that they are different from others, and therefore not good enough.
Finally there is a lack of supervision. Family structures have changed a lot in the past 20 years. Families are fractured, more parents are working long hours, and both kids and parents are over-scheduled. This leads to greater independence for teenagers, and they often don’t have the skills to manage their time, make healthy choices and good decisions, deal with stress, or recognize their own limitations and ask for help.
So what can you do as parents to help yourself and your children make it through these stressful years?
1. “Just Say No!” Set appropriate limits and expectations depending on your child’s age and ability. This includes curfews and limiting after-school activities, computer/phone time, and social networking. Help your child balance schoolwork and fun (yes, they still get to have fun!). They still need your guidance!
2. “Let’s Get Physical!” Encourage regular exercise (heck, you can even exercise as a family), healthy eating, and a good night’s sleep (critical for the developing brain).
3. Shhhhh! Listen to your teenager (they actually LOVE to talk about themselves). Ask your child open-ended questions or begin conversations with “Tell me about…..” or “What do you think about….” Be careful not to preach; that will help to avoid the classic “you don’t understand” response.
4. You are not alone! Because it is normal for teens to want to talk to anyone but their parents, get them connected with a counselor so that you know they are being supported by another adult and they have a private place to talk about issues important to them as they continue their journey of self discovery.
If your teen is interested in speaking to someone about stress management or other issues, feel free to contact me or call Maria Droste Counseling Center’s intake department at 303-867-4600.