Surviving Teenagers (for adults)
Understanding Adults (for teenagers)

two sides of the same coin

As an educational psychologist working in secondary schools, I am often asked by parents for "the right way" to handle their up and coming teenagers.  The parents then often seem disappointed when I cannot come up with a wonder cure that transforms all teenagers into compliant mini adults.  What I then try to do, is to define each participant's role: mine as the psychologist/helper, and the clients' - both parent and adolescent.

Psychologist's role

Confess that there is no single correct way, dip into an eclectic rag-bag approach based on what has worked in the past.
Try to use a developmental psychological viewpoint on a situation.
Listen to both sides and look for connections between unique individuals.
Do not make moral or ethical judgements.  (If that is what the clients require, direct them to a priest.)

Clients’ role

1)    Adolescents

It's easy to see what’s required with a baby:  they have to learn mobility and language etc., but with adolescents?
They have to try out what they have learned (overt or hidden curriculum - what the adults say or what they do?).
They have to prove that they’re no longer children, but there are now few overt rites of passage, at a time of intense physical/psychological change.
Previously at 14+, they went out to work, changed from school to job, or girl to woman (other societies have initiation into adulthood at the onset of menstruation).
We adults now extend children's education to 16, 18 and 21+ and often expect the child/parent (financial dependency) to be maintained.  Yet we ask them to make career orientated educational choices at 13+
If overt positive symbols of growing up are not provided such as key to the door, internet access and our seeking their advice,  then negative signs of adult hood are often adopted - cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.
They have to establish relationships outside the family - they invest a high value in their choice of friend, they feel the need to be backed up by the family, otherwise they may choose never to make close friends.
They have to cope with sexual maturation, hormonal changes, intense sexual feelings.

2)    Parents

The first task is to be parents not pals - stand firm on what you believe.  Adolescents benefit from firm standards/boundaries, even though these are not always enforceable, they need stating.  ( Or will you say “I’d rather she smoked in front of my face than behind my back”?)
(But can you impose standards you don’t uphold yourself? e.g. drinking?)
Make a clear distinction between what is negotiable and what is absolutely forbidden,  keep “NO”s few and clear, not principles but concrete examples.
Prioritise: distinguish between what is “irritating but liveable with” and “never ever again”.  This avoids unnecessary arguments, saves your breath for more important issues, accentuates your negatives by reducing them.  Consult with your partner, come to consensus and aim for consistency.
Recognise your young adult as a separate human being who may think, feel, behave and vote differently from you.
The role of parenting changes.  Be aware of which stage you’re at:

INSTRUCTION        we tell them
NEGOTIATION        both parties discuss
CONSULTATION    you are asked for advice (if you’re lucky)
BABY-SITTING        you are asked for a favour with the grandchildren

When (or better before) something goes wrong, negotiate what checks are useful and what checks are counter productive.  Ask whether it’s worth continuing the homework checking sessions which have produced only hot air and no measurable improvement.  Perhaps it would be more productive to advise and let the consequences occur.
Remind this individual who is demanding certain rights that parents have rights and needs as well.
Adolescence is a time of practising dealing with emotions in the safe environment of the home.
Some scenes may trigger your own unresolved feelings from your own adolescence.  Is it your child that provokes seemingly unreasonable anger in you, or is it your earlier relationship between you and your parents?

Your child is now out of infancy.  For most of us it seems to have flashed past.
Teenagers are about to develop into young adults.
Enjoy the positive aspects while you still can, put up with the negative ones where acceptable and keep your total refusals to an absolute minimum.
As teenagers, they are well past the half way mark of living with you and  they’ll soon be gone.

Have you ever consciously considered at the time of a parent-teenager intense interaction, how will they remember the exchange in the years to come?  If you haven't, perhaps you should!
I imagine that we all have some fairly vivid memories of being "misunderstood" by adults when we were young.
So how can we break this negative cycle?

We are the grown ups: we are "responsible".
Behaviour modification starts with good adult r
ôle models.
Demonstrate through your own adult behaviour, the traits you would like to see develop in your children.

These are my personal opinions which
reflect my experience of  31 years in education
including  the last 18 years of practising as an educational psychologist.
However, they were originally influenced by a talk given by
Simpson Coupar when he worked in Greenwich UK, many years ago.

Simpson is now a senior educational psychologist in East Lothian.

Ged Balmer
Chartered Educational Psychologist
Cert. Ed., BSc.(Hons), MSc.,
C. Psychol., AFBPsS.
British Psychological Society No: 34097

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Chartered Educational Psychologist
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