There’s very little about parenting a child that prepares you to raise an adolescent.
Almost overnight your adorable, loving child becomes moody, irritable, sullen, and uninterested. You may be shocked by the way he or she treats you, and often feel rejected and hurt.
While raising a child is all about bonding and teaching, adolescence begins the process of letting go. It also calls for you to change your parenting, and to reinvent your love for your child to a different version in order to stay emotionally connected in a healthy way.
But adolescence is also a time of bonding and teaching. The bonding and teaching also must change now. The way you connect and teach your child must look and feel differently than when your child was small.
Your child’s teen years are an opportunity to teach her the emotional skills of a lifetime, and also to form a different kind of bond with him; a different version of your love.
What Your Adolescent Is Up Against
- Their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed yet. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is involved in planning and forethought. It’s also believed to contribute to emotion management. Since this very important part of the brain does not fully develop until age 25, adolescents are operating without the full emotion-processing equipment that adults have. This causes their intense emotions to erupt unchecked.
- Their hormones are fluctuating. As teens’ brains are developing, so are their bodies. New hormones are flowing through them, causing them to feel things they’ve never felt and making their bodies seem foreign to them. To say that an adolescent feel unsettled inside himself is the understatement of the year.
- Their brains are pushing them out into the world. As the human brain develops, it automatically pushes the child out and away from their families to prepare them to become adults. In the meantime, their parents are at home trying to tell them what to do. It is so frustrating for them!
Faced with constant change both inside and outside himself, and coping with a yet undeveloped brain; filled with intense emotions, and torn between the safety of home and the appeal of independence, every adolescent is facing challenges that try him to the core.
Unfortunately, the trial for the child also becomes a trial for the parents. What is a parent to do with a moody, distant, emotional teenager?
The Formula For Teaching Your Adolescent Emotion Skills
- Understand that teens say extreme things that they feel at the moment but do not mean overall. For example, “I hate you,” actually just means, “at this moment I feel like I hate you.”
- Do not over-respond to your teen’s outbursts. When you get very angry or hurt by the extreme things teens say, it can give their emotions too much power. This does nothing to prepare them for the real world.
- The formula is this: stay calm, name your teen’s emotion, acknowledge the reason for it, try to empathize with it (even if you disagree with what your teen is feeling); but do not give into it.
Your teen yells, “You’re so mean! I hate you!”
You do not yell, “Go to your room until you can apologize!”
Instead you say: “I know, you’re very angry at me. I get it. I know you want to have the car tonight. But I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen.”
When you respond this way you are teaching your child that his emotions are real and that they make sense to you. But they are not all-powerful. They do not run the show. This is a fundamental rule of emotional health that you definitely want your child to take forward into his adult life.
The parent/child exchange you just read is the formula for raising your child to be a connected, fulfilled, motivated and emotionally intelligent adult. It is the exact opposite of what happens if you ignore, over-respond or under-respond to what your child is feeling (Childhood Emotional Neglect).
Ways To Bond With Your Adolescent
- Teens are typically secretive. They talk less and share less. One of the best ways to know what your teen is up to is getting to know her friends. When in the car or taking them for pizza, watch and listen and ask casual, non-intrusive questions. “What classes do you share with my daughter? What are you doing this summer? What instrument do you play?” can give you lots of info about your child’s social life.
- Teens are moody; they tend to be either “on” or “off.” When they’re off, try to give them some space. When they’re talkative or open, put aside whatever you’re doing and take advantage of that window of opportunity to connect with your teen.
- Be reasonable and clear with rules and consequences. Adolescents need predictability and clarity, and they will respond best when you give it to them.
- Teenagers will experiment and seem outrageous sometimes. It is important to let them do this and accept them for who they are, as long as they’re not doing anything risky or dangerous.
- Give your teen the space to make mistakes. At some point in adolescence, they learn much better from real-world consequences than from their parents. Stand by, let them decide, and let them know you’re there for them if they need you.
- Walk the line. Give them space, but not too much. Always keep your eyes open, and watch. Make sure they know that no matter what, you will never let your bond with them break.
Taking the powerful emotions of your adolescent and using them as a tool to teach him.
Providing the structure, predictability, and clarity that form your adolescent’s platform for growth.
Standing by, giving freedom, and yet always being aware of his feelings and struggles.
That is your new, reinvented version of love for your adolescent.
Learn many more ways to connect emotionally with your small, teen or adult child, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parent & Your Children.
To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.