Adolescence is a period in our lives that is seen as both amazing and frightening. It is a phase full of questions, challenges, fears and, above all, discoveries – about us, others and the way the world works in general.
This is where questions start to arise, questions so big that they are scary – “Who am I?”, “Where am I going?”, “Do others like me?”, “Am I doing the right thing ?”.
These doubts are present in the minds of our teenagers, but the minds of parents are also full of many other concerns: “What is wrong with my child?”, “How can I help him?”, “Why doesn't he look for me anymore to give him support?”, “Why doesn't he listen to me and only upsets me?”, “Why is he always locked in his room?”.
Yes, it seems that everything is happening at the same time and we have many questions and few answers. But I'm here to help you – you teenagers and parents.
So let's start at the beginning.
What is adolescence?
Adolescence is a transition period between childhood and adulthood. The essential characteristics of adolescence emerge thanks to the natural and healthy development of our brain. During this period (between 12 and 24 years old!), our mind undergoes changes in the way we think, decide, reason and relate to others. Why? Because our brain is constantly overwhelmed with learning. And it can be challenging to have to deal with these intense changes.
So does this mean that the teenager is acting in a different and challenging way because it is a stage of brain maturation and not simply because he wants or likes to provoke us? Yes, that's right! During our adolescence we are going through a period where challenge, risk, creativity, emotional intensity and social interaction are central. These changes affect how we look for novelty, how we connect with our peers and why we feel emotions more intensely and push boundaries.
Interestingly, many studies have shown that conflicts between parents/adolescents are a necessary component in adolescent development as they facilitate the individualization process, thus creating a context in which adolescents can assert their independence.
What does this mean? It means that a healthy amount of conflict allows parents and teens to align expectations and facilitate communication, develop conflict management strategies, realign and redefine family ties. Moderate levels of conflict between parents and children have also been linked to better ego development and self-esteem.
It is important to realize that during adolescence we have a window of opportunity to develop positive behaviours and learning. In other words, it is at this stage that we can establish new behavioural, social and emotional patterns.
The fact that our brain is vibrating with a new world of learning and thinking means that we are gradually able to make more decisions and take on more responsibilities.
So how can parents help?
Well, we have to realize that our teenagers are not just upset or against us, they are simply trying to figure out who they are and what they are capable of. And so we're going to have to take on a new role in their lives. Of being present-absent. Contradictory? Strange? Maybe, but I'll explain. Our role as parents and caregivers of teenagers is to encourage discovery, learning, while aware that they will often want to take a risk and take a leap into the unknown without having us around. That doesn't mean they don't want our support. They want to feel that they have the freedom to experiment, but if things go less well, they always have the safety net close by. It is up to us to help them face these new challenges, enhancing their qualities, offering our support and minimizing the risks. We are (a little further) out of sight and close to the heart.