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Parents -- Let the Kids Be Kids

Aug 17, 2007
Teenagers are perfect and wonderful.

Contrary to popular opinion, teenagers are very easy to understand. It's parents that are difficult to comprehend.

Let's start with the easy job, defining the adolescent. An adolescent is a child becoming an adult, not a young adult.

The brain of an adolescent has simply not developed the capacity for future orientation, frustration tolerance, empathy, or the recognition of the needs of other people.

Once we understand this, the role of the parent in the adolescent's life becomes very clear. A parent must act like an adult, even if they don't feel like it.

Many physical features become mature in adolescence. Some sixteen year old really look like mature adults, thus the phrase "she's sixteen going on forty" but the truth is the centers in the brain that organize adult thinking and perception don't develop until well into the twenties.

Paradoxically many of the big questions in life such as religious beliefs, moral values, political positions, career choices and attitudes about society are beginning to be explored intensely by adolescents and this is something to be deeply respected. So how does a parent combine respect and guidance in their adolescents child's life?

This takes us to the more difficult question of understanding parents.

Just about every parent perceives something special in their child's personality and just about every parent feels hostile and threatened at times by their adolescent children.

And just about every parent says something hurtful to their child that they don't really mean.

This is especially true when we parents are tired, frustrated and stressed. We act automatically and don't even think about what we're saying.

"Parents can be idiots."

Most parents either repeat their own parents' behavior or react against what they saw was wrong in their own parents' behavior. At therapists what we help parents learn is to strategize and understand parenting rather than parenting through reaction to their children.

Parenting is a skill, but it also reflects our basic positions about life and its meaning and purpose.

It's important to remember that an adolescent doesn't have the capacity for future orientation or to take into account the real feelings of another person.

For this reason no matter how smart your child is, no matter how verbal or perceptive or intelligent or insightful he or she is, your child still needs an enormous amount of adult guidance, counsel, instruction, and adult supervision on a daily basis.

Parents of intelligent and creative children are especially vulnerable to being seduced by their child's cleverness or what they perceive to be their child's "spiritual innocence or wisdom".

Adolescent children can be tremendously insightful but this insight is limited by the child's lack of experience, natural egotism, and neurological immaturity.

For example, a fourteen year old girl is not competent to make a decision about where she should live. She is competent to express a wish or desire, competent to feel happy or sad or angry, but not competent to understand long term consequences of such a decision.

This kind of understanding is simply impossible for a child no matter how "mature" she seems.

We are always amused by the ironic statement made in our office by adolescents who want "total freedom," yet want their parents to still provide money for hair dye, jewelry, a car, and Doc Martin boots.

Teenagers are not competent to make major decisions yet must be given the freedom to experiment with minor decisions, such as style of clothing, hair style, what to read, what music to listen to, and who they choose for friends.

As painful as it is, the lines between parents and adolescent children need be drawn clearly and absolutely.

Parents must never attempt to be their child's friend, confidant, confessor, or sibling. Parents must take their role seriously as adults, who hold standards, convictions, and expectations for their children which they themselves model.

Now let's talk about how to be a better parent.

Here are five basic errors that parents make and how they can be corrected:

1. Error: Making threats you won't follow through on.

Correction: Find your bottom line on behavior and consequences and stick to it.

2. Error: Ignoring irresponsible behavior.

Correction: Calmly yet firmly confront irresponsible behavior regardless of the obnoxious response of your teenager. this takes courage. If you don't have the courage, get help.

3. Error: Trying to be your adolescent's buddy or friend

Correction. Find your own friends. "Get a Life"

4. Error: Overexplaining your parental position

Correction: Remember the mental limits of adolescent and that most reactions by kids are not in the spirit of discover but to test you seriousness. Just hold your position, calmly and firmly.

5. Error: Believing that parenting should come naturally, or that you should have all the information.

Correction: Think about your parenting style, discuss it with a partner or other adults. Study the art of parenting, consider it carefully just how you want to be a parent and consider counseling for yourself as a positive options to find solutions.
Remember that counseling and therapy do not have to be only for problems but can be a tremendous encouragement for personal growth.

Parents who can strategize are calmer, happier more satisfied with parenting and have fewer medical illnesses.
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