Parenting Adolescents — 12 January 2009
Parents: Chill out about some of your teenager’s annoying habits

Many parents are up in arms about some of their teenager’s habits. The youngster sleeps at odd hours, eats peculiarly, tunes out with his/her music, is incessantly on the computer, texting or talking on the phone with friends, to name a few. If those habits annoy and concern you about your adolescent child – you are lucky parents of a healthy teenager.

The Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Parenting of Adolescents states, “As a society, we both fear adolescents and fear for them. We fear their rashness, their rudeness, and their rawness; and we fear for their safety, their future and their very lives.”

Good parents are attentive to their children’s moods, attitude and conduct in order to safeguard their healthy development. Changes during adolescence, when maturing children search for their separate identity, are well known to parents. Adults are also aware of the importance of peer attention and connection during puberty. What is confusing for parents is that some forms of the attempted emancipation are unique to each generation. Some of the current technological avenues for distancing from the family did not even exist when the parents were adolescents. Adults tend to focus their concerns and criticism about the means their youngsters use in their bid for independence, rather than their meaning.

Perhaps the most stressful issue for parents is not their teen’s excessive use of technology and obsession with peers, but the feelings of alienation, rejection and loss of significance parents experience as their teenagers declare their autonomy and try to terminate the need for parenting.

As painful as these emotions may be and as difficult as their adolescent children make it, parents must continue to do their job of staying present, monitoring, observing, guiding, setting boundaries, teaching and being available to their children,

It is also reasonable for parents to set certain behavioral limits on any of their children’s activities such as: restricting the use of electronic devices, contact with peers, language use, habits, time utilization, or whatever parents deem necessary for the teenager’s wellbeing. However, parents must do so without the anger or intense criticism born out of their own hurt of alienation by their adolescent’s rejecting conduct.

There are certainly some teen-age behavioral changes that merit parental concern. Psychiatric advises, “Generally, parents should watch for behavior changes. Sudden drops in school grades, spending time in unsupervised situations, episodes of depression and changing sleep patterns are all signs that a teenager may be keeping dangerous secrets.” Since secrets are an integral part of teenagers’ strive for autonomy, not all unshared thoughts, feelings or conduct are reasons for parental worry. Some of the major areas of concern for parents are behaviors associated with substance abuse, reaction to trauma, depression, mental health issues, sexual behavior or social Relationship
difficulties. Many of the symptoms of these graver conditions are hard to distinguish from “normal adolescence behavior”. However, you know your child best and are the best people to make the initial assessment whether there is a need for seeking help.

• Remain a vigilant parent. Observe the changes your teenager is exhibiting as you assess their appropriateness.
• Ask yourself if your adolescent’s behavior is annoying or harmful?
• Accept that your teenager’s non-communicative and secretive style is rejecting, but resist responding with anger, criticism and punitive measures because of your hurt.
• If you are concerned about certain of your child’s new behaviors, talk to teachers, other parents, read or research online. One reliable source of information is The American Psychological Association site, among others.
• Honor your concerns and seek professional assistance to assess whether or not your teenager’s behavior may indicate serious difficulties.
• Appreciate that your child’s adolescence is a hard time for him/her and is temporary. Your youngster is most likely evolve to having a good connection with you in due time.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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