In our workshop on ‘Parenting Teenagers’, a father shared, “My son hardly talks to me these days. As a child he used to be chatting with me all the time. Now he only answers me in monosyllables. I feel shut out of his world!”
Another mother in the workshop chimed in, “My daughter Shruti, anyway she spends time with friends at school, but the minute she returns home she’s back on the phone with them”.
We, parents of teenagers are often confused and perplexed at our children’s behaviour. Our world has revolved around them through their young years. Now in the teen years, when it appears that they are distancing us from them, we feel hurt and find it hard to relate to them.
According to Dr. Daniel Seigel there is a scientific reason for this behaviour in adolescents. Between the ages of 12 and 24 years, studies indicate that there are huge transformations taking place in the structure and function of the teenage brain.
Siegel’s research says that it's literally as if the teenagers’ brain is prompting them to detach themselves from their family and seek friendships and strong bonds with peers outside. There is a biological reason for this as its nature’s way of making them independent. Spending more time with their peers helps teenagers to develop a new identity of their own, different from their family. We might find them dressing and behaving more like their friends. The brain is telling the child- “You need to belong to the group. You will need to depend on them. They are your future.” It’s not just humans but even mammals leave their parents and join the pack. So the pack here, is the friends -the peer group.
Having this information, what could we parents of teenagers do to have better understanding and connection with our children? Among other things, an important job of a parent of a teenager is to LISTEN - actually be attuned to what our child is feeling, thinking, and hoping for.
As parents, we often turn many conversations into teaching moments by lecturing and constantly advising our children. This creates an abyss in the relationship.
On the other hand, when we listen without preconceived judgements, we engaging with our teenagers and understanding what is alive for them at that moment. This helps us to get clued into what is really happening in their world - their fears, anxieties and frustrations. We parents might trivialize our children’s issues but we need to remember that what may be seemingly small to us may cause huge stress and anguish for them.
“I didn’t get any likes for the picture I posted on Facebook!”
“This is such a horrible haircut! I look so bad! What will my friends say?”
Such situations maybe overwhelming for our teenage children. These are opportunities for us parents to step in and be pillars of support instead of ridiculing their feelings. It’s helpful for us to keep in mind that even though our children look grown up and act adult-like, they are closer to childhood and need our guidance through their confusing teen years.
Gary Chapman in his book, ‘The Five Love Languages of Teenagers’ talks about filling a child’s “emotional tank”. He prompts us to examine each of our actions towards our children. Every time we respect, understand, show compassion towards our teenagers we are filling that tank. By filling that tank, we will be able to turn conflict into connection and form a deeper understanding with our teenage child.