How to raise a hormonal teen

take a chill pill

How to raise  a hormonal teen

Picture a teenager – raging hormones, puberty-induced bodily, emotional and behavioural changes, a need for acceptance by one’s peer group, an evolving need for autonomy and independence, academic pressures – a simmering volcano is what comes to mind.

This period that marks a person’s transition from childhood to adulthood presents unique challenges to both parents and children. Emotions run high when the parents set (or attempt to set) boundaries for what is acceptable, for the teenager perceives this as an interference or worse, a restriction of their freedom.

There have been major shifts in the societal trends over the past decade, which has impacted young people and families, thus altering parenting styles.  Teenagers’ behaviour is often flummoxing to parents who don’t know how to handle sticky situations. With a little empathy and mutual respect, one can ensure smooth communication and a healthy relationship between the two parties.

Mounting pressure

Heavy competition has led to academic pressure skyrocketing among students, making them vulnerable to mental disorders. Depression rates among youth have doubled in the recent years. Comparative failure can affect the self-esteem of those less academically inclined. Substance abuse has become common, thanks to access to drugs and alcohol, better knowledge of legal highs and peer pressure.

Photo-shopped, unnaturally skinny models have set impossibly high standards for developing girls and contributed to body image issues and eating disorders. Self-harm by cutting/overdosing in a bid to manage raw emotional pain is increasing.

The internet is rife with cyberbullying, abuse and other concerning trends on social media platforms. Early puberty, precocious sexual awareness, knowledge, potential for promiscuity and early experimentation can affect children’s mental health.

Reconstituted (divorced/single-parent) families and altered family structures lead to major life changes. The rise in adult mental illnesses and lifestyle conditions like diabetes means teens may need to take on the role of caretakers at home.

Be calm, practise empathy

Picture this: It’s late and your teen is not home yet. A familiar, unpleasant emotional rollercoaster of fear, panic, frustration and anger starts a duel with your pragmatism. Why did she not tell you she was going to be late? Exams are looming. It is late for dinner. She may not have enough money. It is not that safe after dark. Does she have enough charge on her phone? You try calling her countless times.

You start fearing the worst. She may be attending that party you had forbidden, wearing that little black dress. Opposite sex friendships. Dating. Alcohol. Drugs. Road traffic accidents.

You attempt to justify her irresponsible behaviour. Mobile coverage can be tricky. She must be nearly home. You are about to go in search of her when she walks in. Strong parental emotions may pour out. Her attitude can seem uncaring, disrespectful and irresponsible.

An emotional parent reacts instead of responding. Consider calmly calling a family meeting. She may say she tried calling you or admit that she forgot. Commend her on her honesty but explain your concerns and expectations to her. She is likely to understand and even apologise. Agree on ground rules to prevent such situations from recurring.

Dealing with demands

Teenagers’ constant demands irk parents – pocket money, the latest smartphone, a bike or a car. Adults tends to believe that they were more reasonable and responsible when they were teenagers and hence, start comparing. This may lead the adolescent to return the favour and say that their friends’ parents are ‘cooler’ and more loving.

Explain your financial constraints to your son or daughter and  discuss what is feasible. Identify practical ways for them to get what they want, for instance, they could save up pocket money or take up a part-time job to pitch in for a new smartphone. This will teach them hard work, patience and compromise, which will ultimately empower them. Training them in creative arts and sports can help them manage adolescent turmoil better.

Parenting influences

A parent’s own upbringing and family circumstances have the biggest impact on his or her parenting style. Be it lack of consistency or over predictability, rigidity or a laidback style, overindulgence or deprivation. Parents may have polarised memories of their own experiences as teenagers in a different generation.

A deprived child may become an overindulgent parent; a child subject to strict rules may become either a rigid parent (unknowingly perpetuating the vicious cycle) or a parent who allows excessive freedom (to compensate for residual frustration). A frequently-travelling  parent may overindulge their child to make up for the guilt of not being there enough. Older mothers may be coping with menopause; female hormones may cause tricky situations between mother and daughter.

Mutual respect, honesty and trust are vital concepts that are phenomenally difficult to implement. Three simple words in a two-way street that are tested in complex, re-surfacing situations. Repeatedly. Concerning societal trends can be countered with insightful parenting that focuses primarily on experiential learning.

Teens learn by observation.Collaborative approaches, consistent responses from both parents, constant communication and positive family interactions go a long way. Remember, today’s teenager is tomorrow’s parent. The cycle continues.

(The author is senior consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist)

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