By: Dyan Eybergen
It is never more crucial to hold on to our children than when they reach the stage of adolescence. This isn’t easy to do as it is often a time when we are seen as the enemy – preventing our children from spreading their wings and learning how to fly on their own. It’s a constant battle of wills and to almost every teenager, mom and dad no longer know best! Erik Erkison, a Developmental Psychologist, first pointed out the need for teenagers to separate from their parents in his Developmental Psychosocial Stages. Erikson coined the teenage years as a time to discover who we are as individuals separate from our family of origin and become members of a wider society. Unfortunately, with this need to venture forth without parental direction, comes a grave lack of life experience. Cognitively, teenagers are not equipped to handle the pressure of going at life without guidance and supervision from their parents. The brain of an adolescent isn’t mature enough yet to handle issues of executive functioning: a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. It’s the reason teenagers are impulsive and don’t always make the best choices.
Parents need to work hard to strengthen the bonds between them and their children during the teenage years so their influence over their children cannot be replaced by peers and pop culture. Dr. Gordon Neufeld, A psychologist with 40 years experience with children and youth, and co-author of the book, Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers has repeatedly stressed how important it is to maintain positive parent-child relationships.
The troubling part for parents is finding ways to keep the ties that bind strong in the wake of teenage resistance and parental rejection. Here are 5 ways to navigate through the roadblocks put up by our teens and maintain a positive relationship with them:
- Create rituals for saying hello and goodbye. Say the words “I love you” often. A hug, a squeeze to the shoulder, a high-five, a tussle to the hair are ways that we can physically touch our teens and keep them grounded to their sense of belonging.
- Learn other ways of saying ‘no’ to your child when it comes to the small stuff – this way if you change your mind and give in to saying ‘yes’ you will not counteract the importance of the word no. Save the word ‘NO’ for those big questions where an emphatic answer is necessary: “NO you may not stay out all night with your friends at the beach.” “NO, your boyfriend may not sleep over.”
- Give your child a safe place to cry. Help move your child through their sadness by accepting how he/she feels. Dr. Neufeld says tears can be a powerful part of a parent-child relationship because if a child feels safe at home and cries tears of futility, that often simply means the child has accepted that something he or she wants won’t work.
- Confirm your love for your child after a disagreement. Separate the behaviour or the issue you don’t like from the child. “I didn’t like the way you handled that situation but I do love you and nothing you do could change that.”
- Make time for your teen. Listen when he/she talks. Be present in your adolescent’s world by taking interest in what he/she is interested in. Have family dinners and game nights. Be available and love unconditionally.