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When Push Comes to Love: Tips for surviving the teen years

Published 03/19/2012 12:00 AM

I am not sure if it has been something in the air lately or just the time of year, but teens are having a difficult time of things. At least that has been the trend in my office. Actually, I should rephrase that: parents of teens have been having a difficult time of things lately. I think it is difficult to be the parent of an adolescent, and frankly, the thought gives me nightmares. I continue to tell myself I will be ready by then, but I see the true conflicts and struggles on the faces of my clients and their families and I realize it may be one of the most difficult stages of development there is. It impacts all members of the family, not just the person going through it.

Speaking of stages, Erik Erikson's stages of development are something important to review during adolescence, both for parents and the teen. Erikson deemed adolescence as the span of time between 12 and 18 years old, and determined that during this time the ego is confronted with identity vs. role confusion. It is a pivotal time for those going through the stage. It is when the teens start actually impacting their own lives. Prior to this stage, the parents really lead the way. But adolescence is when teens start trying to figure out who they are, where they fit in, both with friends and family, and what kind of life philosophy they will adopt. It is when they begin to step away from their family and develop a "self" in a larger society; if not physically, emotionally and philosophically. This is when your teen might come home with a new "cause" or interest every month. Save the Whales, Teens Against Drunk Driving, Recycling, etc. They are attempting to figure out what they want to be associated with, who they are. No surprise, this is also when peer relationships trump all and are incredibly significant. And all of this is vital in human development.

But as a parent of a little boy, I can already start to feel my stomach turn a bit. Thinking of my son pulling away from the family emotionally and physically hurts some. And I totally understand when I see parents cling onto earlier stages with their children. This stage of development is difficult. But the parental clinging, I have found from experience with clients, only makes the current stage more difficult.

I try to explain to parents that if their teen more often wants to spend time in their room or doing things that they know will anger the parents, things are as they should be. It doesn't feel great, but the teen is developing as they are expected to. That's when I get some odd looks. And that is okay.

I also tell teens that it is okay that they want to tick off their parents during this phase, but to carefully choose how to do so. Intentionally failing (yes they do that) because parents are SO concerned about grades is only going to hurt the kid. It is okay to find non-harmful ways to push parents' buttons during this stage of development. It is essential. And there can be a balance.

The most important piece is that parents need to try very hard - and I mean VERY because our memories are not what they used to be - to remember what life was like for them as a teenager. This is when I will parents say hear "I would never DREAM of doing ------- to my parents." I doubt it. We all did this stuff. Technology has altered some of the approaches to things these days, but we all developed through this stage. We all pulled away and tried to figure out ourselves. I remember being thrilled that my mother could never know what I was thinking about her. If I said something (loud enough) that would be a problem, but she could never take away my private thoughts. So there!

I encourage parents to read during this stage of development. Read anything that will normalize the experience. Also read things that will help. "Parenting Teens with Love and Logic" by Foster Cline and Jim Fay offers strategies and one-liners that will not escalated problems and will actually add a dash of humor to the experiences. Yes, that is possible.

"Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind" by Michael J. Bradley offers a raw and candid view on parenting teens but provides an approach that can be applied to many circumstances.

Adolescence is challenging. I would not relive it for anything. But I will live it differently in years to come. I applaud the parents going it through it with their kids. I have been able to see families who come out the other end and are relieved. Parents tell me, "my daughter is back." It happens. It is a stage, not a lifetime. Those years may seem to take forever, but they do pass. Share your favorite / best teen parenting strategy in the comments section. Share the wealth of knowledge so we all survive!

Beverly Carr is a clinical social worker based in Norwich. Her monthly column offers advice on childhood anxiety, school and family and social issues. She can be reached at http://beverlycarr.vpweb.com/