Guest Author - Beverly Patchell
Of all the phases of child development, perhaps none is as dreaded as adolescence. Maybe it is hearing for years as your child grows, "just wait until he/she is a teenager!" It is as if all of the rules change and everything is turned upside down for seven long years or until they "grow out of it". Well, now it is here and maybe things did turn upside down or maybe you are still anxiously waiting for "something" to happen. This cloud of anxiety can cause you to react in certain predictable ways. You might try to retain control of the process and become too overbearing and protective. Another potential option is to reduce yourself to being their best friend and abandoning the parental role. Some parents find the best way is to share the responsibility, usually with a grandparent or other adult. Chances are if you are interested in adolescence, it is because you have one or more in your life. Handling that responsibility takes perspective; getting that perspective is the subject of this article.
The most basic responsibilities of parenting or nurturing adolescents are to provide for their physical safety through adequate food and shelter. While adolescence is notorious for the nutritional challenges of fast food and variable diets, either to lose or gain weight, adult monitoring is not out of line during this time. Physical safety is also difficult to monitor at times, as they become increasingly independent and mobile. However, it still falls to the adult to set basic ground rules around diet and safe behavior and to enforce them when need be.
Cognitive and social changes also occur during this time and this might be an area where parents/adults think that it is the responsibility of the school to handle this area. Adolescents think all the time, even if they don't act like it, and will be trying out their changing skills at home as well as at school. Adults need to be tolerant of the adolescent's questioning, rejecting, or promoting of ideas and principles that may not coincide with their own. Race, ethnic origin, community and environment exert influence on who they are and what they will become. Adolescents need assistance in sorting out the customs, beliefs, and information they are exposed to by their life experiences. Adults should help them work through possible choices and potential outcomes in their life based on those choices whenever that opportunity arises.
Adolescents are a study in contradictions; they may demand freedom, but retreat into dependency; they may demand the right to think what they wish, but not allow you to do the same. Keeping a sense of humor, especially about yourself, will help keep the situation from gaining more importance than it requires. Even if there are major mistakes, chances are that it is based on complex interactions rather than a single act of poor parenting. The adolescent will depend on you to help them sort through the complexities and help them make sense of them.
Unless your adolescent has a chronic illness or issue that demands you devote your life to them, don't do it. The best thing you can do for a normal adolescent is to model taking care of yourself and having balance in life. This means finding time for your own activities and needs. Talking through these things and helping the adolescent understand the importance of self-care and self-love lets them know how to do the same for themselves and to balance doing for others with doing for self. This is an often overlooked aspect of setting limits for adolescents, but a very important one if you are to keep the energy, enthusiasm, and perspective that you need to provide all of these things to the adolescents in your life.