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Changing hairstyles, clothing, slang and even personalities can be expected as normal behavior in teenagers, said Parent Support Specialist Kelli White, presenting “Positive Discipline for your Teenager”.
White said the parents she tries to reach are those in the “exasperated, I give up stage” so that they can “know what is normal. Parents of teenagers are pretty isolated from each other. They should form a community where they can talk about stresses.” Although, “it’s sort of taboo to think (you need parenting classes), all parents can learn new insights and skills to build a stronger, healthier relationship with their kids.” White, also a Certified Parent Educator, said the teenage years are “a real challenging time for parents and kids because kids, developmentally, are trying to separate themselves from their parents. Their minds change very quickly, and that’s not abnormal. It’s not unlike toddler hood.”
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She said the process is called individuation. “Adolescence is that final stage of developing a self and so it shows up as rebellion or defiance. Parents often respond to that with harsh punishment instead of understanding. Teenagers don’t have grownups who remember how hard it is.”
White said the first step is listening. “Listen to what the behavior may be trying to tell you. We need to shut up. Parents often ask a barrage of questions and expect quick answers.”
Parents should “live in their world for a while,” White said. This could involve hanging out or playing with your teen.
“It’s very hard for grownups not to control the play. Find something that the teen wants. Let them lead. Then, they’re going to trust you a little more because you are vulnerable. Many parents aren’t used to that. They’re used to having power.” After spending time together, “the teen feels comfortable sharing some of what is bothering them.
“All of us can go back to a time when the world is scary, and teenagers need enormous support. They need to be guided. They are becoming adults. We as grownups are here to guide them through the process,” said White. “Discipline really means teaching. We kind of confuse it with punishment. Parents have this role of teachers.”
White said parents should “try to really support our children and believe in them that they want to do the right thing. They may just not know how. Their thinking is quite different, and they will make mistakes along the way. They need to make these mistakes in a positive, supportive environment so that they can learn from them rather than learn to hide their mistakes. In an overly critical environment, teenagers will shut down, or they will rebel. They need allies.” She said “authoritative” style parents produce the healthiest children. Those are parents who set rules but allow some flexibility for rules to change over time.
“Parents are enforcers of rules, but teens need to have some part in making those rules. Authoritative parents listen to how their kids feel about things and make adjustments. Parents should have boundaries, and when the teen breaks these, there should be agreed upon consequences.”
White said that consequences should be unique to each family. “Parents know their children best. Every family is different. The most important thing is that the consequences be related to the behavior, logically related to what the teen did. It’s got to be related, and I think parents don’t do that very well. They’re so angry they just spew out – ‘You’re grounded forever!'”