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Understanding Teenagers

Recently Published Article - Care For The Family - Oct 2016

Madeleine Stanimeros shares some of the key principles she has learnt in parenting teenagers.

I love parenting teens. I know! – Who’d have thought? Of course, I do have moments when I want to scream, but that’s not the bigger picture. Teenagers are a mine of enthusiasm and passion: the unedited version of adults where dreams and ideals are formed. As parents, we have the privilege of sharing in their struggles and victories. And, if we can take some of the stress out of it, it can be hugely rewarding and fun.

We have five children and have learned and grown through some stonking mistakes. On the way we have stumbled upon a handful of parenting principles we’re grateful for. We’ve gathered these mainly by questioning other families who seem to be doing a better job. And over time, we’ve formed a framework by repeatedly asking ourselves “What sort of adults do we want our teenagers to become?”

Two of the main objectives that stand out for us, and many parents we know, seem to underpin all our principles: To keep the relationship with the turbulent teenager intact at all times and build their emotional security.

Many teenagers can have ‘megga’ issue nearly every day, which don’t always seem as catastrophic to us as to them. This is where there is potential for conflict. Maintaining the relationship, as our objective sense meets their impulsive need, feels like a high benchmark. It’s not one we always meet, but we’ve found that learning to communicate more effectively by seeking to understand before being understood has helped us to keep calm when they’re not. It has certainly changed the volume in our home.

When they come in rattled with an issue, its vital to listen to them telling you about it and try to understand how it might have made them feel. Intuition often urges us to advise, moralise, solve, analyse, distract or interrogate when our teenagers have a problem (or is that only me?). We’ve found that laying down our defences in the first scenario and finding words to echo their feelings has moved them from feeling angry with no choices, to being understood and considering their options.

As a presenter of a parenting course I’ve probably learned more than I’ve taught through listening to our guests as we all ponder the various challenges of parenting. But, the ‘active listening’ principle is one everyone finds hard to put into practice; it feels counter-intuitive because, as parents, we’re so ready to advise.

Our 15-year-old was utterly crushed recently when an important event he’d been working towards was cancelled. What would your instinctive response have been? Mine would have been to say “Never mind”, “Set up another date” “At least your preparation will keep for next time.” “We’ll go out for a Pizza instead.” Sooth, advise, console, distract. But psychologist and Nobel Prize nominee, Gordon Thomas, an early pioneer of effective communication explained that what our children really need to hear from us is:

  • You have a right to express how you feel

  • I really want to hear your point of view

  • Your ideas are worth listening to

  • I’m interested in you

  • I might learn something here

As we validate their feelings and stand back, they will develop rational solutions. When I said to my stressed teenager, “I’m so sorry, you must be distraught; you’ve worked so hard towards this. I’m gutted for you.” His anger softened to tears … then solutions. I’m trying to hardwire that principle in, but I still blurt profound advice at pivotal moments from time to time.

Feelings can be raw, difficult and even ugly at times, but if we want to raise emotionally intelligent adults, we need to acknowledge their right to have emotions, (even when we don’t share them!)

Teenagers are challenging and I’m sure it’s not just ours! But if we just grit our teeth and bury our heads during these years we’ll miss a fun and rewarding opportunity to really know them as they begin to trust us through their highs and lows.

We’ve found that having a handful of principles has helped us to form a plan, even if we’re off track half of the time. That plan enables us to be proactive as parents rather than reactive in the messy moments and to keep our heads when our kids are losing theirs. And, if we can model a well put-together adult, who knows? One day they might want to be one themselves.

Madeleine Stanimeros

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