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Before I got married, I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.

Lord Rochester

There is good news and bad news about the develop- mental changes of adolescence. The good news is that they are temporary. Adolescence is a developmental stage. Like the terrible twos, it will eventually pass. The bad news is that this passage may take seven to twelve years. Adolescence is not complete until your child is financially independent from you. As Clayton Barbeau notes, when your child is “paying his own bills,” both literally and figuratively, he has entered the world of adulthood.

Most parents can be patient for the six months that it takes for a toddler to pass from the terrible twos to the more delightful three-year-old stage. However, few parents find it easy to be patient, loving, and supportive of their kids as they pass through the much longer adolescent developmental stage.

The passage from childhood to adulthood is challenging, confusing, and exciting. Teens vacillate between their adult self and their child self, between abstract and concrete thinking, between wanting to be taken care of and wanting more freedom. At times, teenagers can be extremely rude and disrespectful, and then surprise us and be sensitive and compassionate. They can act like strong, independent adults, and at other times, they appear to be frightened, needy children.

The challenge of parenting teenagers is twofold: they are changing dramatically and we are often unprepared for how their changing behaviour will affect us. The relation- ship between parent and child involves a delicate balance between our personality type and our child’s. Knowing what to expect can clear the sometimes-blurred boundary of what is their issue, what is ours, and what is develop- mental. Developmentally, teenagers are changing dramatically in five ways: physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, and spiritually. The following is a summary of typical and normal developmental behaviour for adolescents. Remember that the developmental behaviours are temporary and universal. Although these behaviours may be seen in adolescents of any age, they are particularly characteristic of the early teenage years, ages eleven to fifteen.

Physical Changes

Puberty comes from the Latin word, pubescere that literally means to get hairy. During early adolescence, there is an accelerated skeletal and sexual maturation. Girls usually mature about two years before boys. The average onset of puberty for boys is about twelve-and-a-half-years- old. The hormone testosterone plays an important role in male development; for females it is the hormone estradiol.

A girl’s menarche, her first menstrual period, indicates that she is into the process of puberty. There is no way to pinpoint the very beginning of puberty. Except for menarche, no single point depicts it. For boys, either facial hair or their first wet dream indicates puberty, but both may go undetected by parents.

These biological changes trigger an increased interest in body image. Adolescents are often critical of their physical appearance and judgmental of how others look. They are concerned about being different from others. The media culture puts a tremendous amount of pressure on adolescent girls and boys to conform to its narrow standards of femininity and masculinity.

Emotional Changes

A teenager’s emotional development is influenced by biological, cognitive, and social factors. As parents we need to recognize the impact that our society has on our own children.

Our culture tells boys they should be cool, confident and strong. At the same time, society tells them they should be sensitive and open with their feelings, especially in relation to girls. As William Pollack has noted in his book Real Boys, the impact of this double standard is sometimes a confusion of identity and erosion of the boy’s self-esteem.

Our look-obsessed, media driven culture is poisoning our adolescent girls. As Mary Pipher points out in her popular book Reviving Ophelia, girls are “losing themselves” in adolescence. Girls are sent shallow and confusing messages about what it means to be feminine.

Some typical behaviours you might see in early adolescence:

• Emotional highs and lows (This is the best day of my life! Or My life is down in the dumps. I have no friends.)

• Increased desire to be alone (Leave me alone. I’ll be in my room.)

• Defiant and argumentative behaviour (You can’t make me.)

• Black-white and good-bad thinking (My mom gets on my nerves. Or My mom is cool.)

• Tendency to exaggerate (All the other parents are letting their kids go.)

• Self-centredness and focus on their own concerns (I’m the only one that does any work around here.)

• A feeling of invincibility (That will never happen to me.)

• An increase in the use of shoulds (You’re the parent. You should drive me to the mall.)

Intellectual Changes

Between the ages of eleven and fifteen, adolescents begin to think operationally. This means their thought process becomes more abstract, idealistic, and logical. What you might encounter from your developing adolescent:

• Challenging the rules and pushing the limits

• Seeking self-definition by formulating their own ideas and opinions

• Questioning and challenging parents’ values

• Over-generalising (I have nothing to wear. Or, I do all the work around here.)

• Egocentric thinking (the world revolves around them.)

Increased desire to make their own decisions (It’s my life.)

Social Changes-Family

It is a myth that relationship and attachment to parents does not remain strong during adolescence. However, the relationship is not always smooth. There is usually an increase of parent-teen conflict during the early phase of this developmental stage. Adolescents have an increased idealism. They often compare their parents to an ideal standard and then criticize their flaws. What you might expect to see from your teen:

Emotional separation from parents

• Increased criticism of parents (You’re going to wear that?)

• Embarrassment about being seen with parents (Drop me off here. I’ll walk the rest of the way.)

• Increased conflict with siblings

• Less communication with parents

• Increased communication with friends

• Feeling that parents are over-protective (Stop treating me like a baby.)

• Taking parents for granted

• Developing a relationship with adults other than

parent (e.g., teachers, coaches, other kids’ parents)

• Expressing the need to have more freedom

• Needing and wanting limits, but not admitting this to their parents

Social Changes – Peers

Teenagers spend more time with their peers in middle and late adolescence than in childhood. Friends become increasingly more important. Acceptance by peers is a strong motivation for most teenagers. What to expect:

• Increased influence by peer group

• Friendships help teens experience belonging, support, and acceptance

• Friends validate teens’ decisions and support their new, independent selves

• Criticism, name-calling of peers who do not meet cultural standards

• Boys can be particularly cruel with their remarks about another boy being a “queer”

• Girls can hate other girls who do not conform to the culture’s idea of femininity

• Girls who are smart, assertive, confident, too pretty or not pretty enough are likely to be criticized by other girls

• Boys who are sensitive and open with their feelings are likely to be criticized for not being cool, confident, and strong

• Increased pre-occupation with the complementary sex

• Not wanting parents to tease them about boy- friends/girlfriends

• An abundance of knowledge about sex and sexuality, although often much of their information is incomplete or inaccurate

• Concern and focus on developing their sexual identity

Spiritual Changes

Teenagers are drawn toward a deeper spirituality than when they were children. Because of their increased ability to think abstractly and their search for identity, teenagers are more interested in religious and spiritual matters. It is during the teenage years that individuals begin to take personal responsibility for their religious beliefs. Some teens become deeply religious, others experience a crisis in faith, while others identify themselves as atheists. A teenager’s spiritual journey might include:

• Questioning what they have been taught about God, religion, spirituality

• Attempting to make religion personal

• Seeking a personal relationship/understanding about how God fits in their lives

• Questioning parents’ religion/religious values

• Experiencing the presence of the divine in nature

• Wondering about the ultimate question: life and death, after-life, the universe (Why am I here? Is there life after death? Who made God?)

“This Is Not About Me”

Understanding the developmental stages of adolescence is essential. When your adolescence is moody and sullen, when she is screaming at you for being a horrible parent, when you think your teenage son has forgotten how to talk, when your adolescent avoids you in public, when your daughter is constantly criticizing your taste in fashion, when your kids would rather be with their friends than spend an evening with the family-remind yourself that these are normal adolescent behaviours, and in time, they will pass.

Repeat the following mantra when confronted with these typical and normal adolescent behaviours: This is not about me! When you are driving your teenager to school and he does not say a word the entire way, despite several attempts on your part to strike up a conversation, know that this is normal. Repeat silently to yourself: This is not about me. It is about your teenager-his moodiness, his need to withdraw, his uneasiness with his changing self. When you ask your daughter about her day and she snaps back at you, “Nothing happened, OK? Why don’t you just leave me alone!”-remind yourself: This is not about me. It is about your daughter and her self-criticism or her fight with her boyfriend or her pressures from school or her desire to separate from you.

When your teenager is critical of you, do you get defensive? When he is morose, do you feel vaguely responsible? When he is silent in the car on the way to school, do you feel obliged to find a topic of conversation? At these times, remind yourself that tomorrow he will be in a different mood. Remind yourself that his behaviours are an outward expression of normal adolescent development and usually not about you.

What is about you, though, is how your child’s behaviour affects you and how you choose to respond. Your behaviour is your responsibility. We encourage parents to take care of themselves so they have the parental strength to continue to guide their teenagers during these challenging years.

The following is a list of ideas for taking care of yourself:

• Get plenty of rest, exercise, and good nutrition.

• Take a time out, and ask your partner to take

charge of the parenting.

• Get away from the house for awhile.

• Talk to close family friends about parenting issues.

• Contact extended family for comfort and support.

• Ask for help.

• If needed, get counselling.

• Take a weekend vacation away as a couple or alone.

• Laugh a lot.

• Pray.

• Read inspirational material.

Make conscious choices about life style in order to reduce family stress.

• Simplify your life.

Part of taking care of yourself is knowing yourself- knowing your strengths and weaknesses, understanding what triggers your impatience and anger, knowing your own style of communication, how you deal with conflict, express affection, deal with hurt feelings. It takes courage to look at yourself. Yet it is essential to effective parenting, especially parenting of teenagers.

Mark Gunty, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, writes:

There is more to parenting than taking a moment to calm down, letting go, and doing something different. No one becomes a good parent in a day. What is really at the heart of your effectiveness as parents is a beautiful and finely honed sense of self. I think it is important that people know that good parenting means you really have to con- front yourself openly, courageously and diligently. In fact, it can be a great gift of your kid’s adolescent years that you work out some of your personal issues in the process.

Parenting Partners

Working on yourself also involves working with your partner so that you can keep your marital issues separate from your parenting issues. I am horrified at myself when I respond badly to the kids when the real source of my frustration is in my relationship with Steve. For the strategies in this book to be most effective it is important for the two partners to be working in concert. Harmony and consistency between parents requires considerable co- ordination. The biggest problem is in the area of consistency. For example, if one parent has resolve and the other does not, the kids will exploit that situation to their advantage. It also makes things hard on the parent with resolve because he or she is forced into the role of bad cop. So the parents have to work out issues with each other in order to be an effective team.

Teenagers like it when parents disagree. They can play one against the other and usually get their way. It is important to be united, as much as possible, in your parenting. If you disagree with your partner’s parenting, confront him or her in private. Discuss differences and formulate strategies to parent more harmoniously. Keep focused on the needs of the children, not yourself.

Don’t Give Up!

As teenagers begin to exhibit the normal adolescent developmental behaviours and start to withdraw from their parents, some parents withdraw from their kids.

• If she’s not going to talk to me, then I’m not going to talk to her.

• If he’s going to be so moody all the time, then I will just let him wallow in his self-pity.

• If he is going to be so rude and disrespectful, then I will avoid him.

Some parents tend to withdraw at the most critical time in their child’s development. Dr. John Gottman says, “The majority of adolescents keep relying on their parents for advice and guidance even if they seem to resent it. It’s crucial for parents to provide this. Withdrawal has terrible consequences.”

Adolescents need parental guidance and it is essential for us to continue to monitor them. However, parenting teens requires a different set of skills than parenting younger children. Michael Riera, in his book Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers, says parents need to change from being their child’s manager to being their consultant. Applying the principles of the 10 gifts will teach you how to make this shift.

We are asking parents to challenge their beliefs about how their relationship with their teens needs to be. Instead of believing that the teen years must be intense, stressful, and full of conflict, know that something else is possible. Your relationship does not need to be consumed with storm and stress. There is a different way of being.

It is possible for you to be an important authority figure in your teen’s life, despite the popular belief that parents and teens detach during adolescence. The adolescent-parent and adolescent-peer worlds have an important connection. Do not buy into the belief that parent and peer worlds must be isolated from each other. This is a dangerous misconception.

Every Teenager Is Unique

The parenting skills we share will be more or less effective depending on the temperament and personality of your teen, and how you choose to apply them. Every teenager is unique. No two teenagers are exactly alike. We can generalize about female and male teens. However, there will be exceptions to every rule. When we say that most teenage boys talk very little to their parents, there will be the exception of that teenage boy who will share everything with his parents. When we say that teenage girls love to engage their mothers in arguments, there will be that mother-daughter relationship that is mostly free of conflict.

Even within the same family, no two teenagers are alike. There might be the easy teenager, who talks to his parents very openly and whose rebellion is very mild. Then the next kid that enters adolescence is a holy terror, who outwardly defies her parents and is relentless in questioning everything and pushing the limits of parental authority.

Giving the 10 Gifts

The greatest thing to be gained from reading this book is the desire and ability to truly communicate with your teenager. The gifts we share will help you build a beautiful relationship with your son or daughter. They have helped hundreds of parents to understand their teenagers and to relate to them more effectively, and they can do the same for you.

After you have digested this book, actively participate in sharing with others these gifts from the heart. We invite you to share with your family and friends 10 Best Gifts for Your Teen. These gifts will spread like fire and make a significant difference in your family, your community, and in our endangered world. We must make the vibrancy of the human soul more important than material wealth. True relationships are the most important and profound gifts in the universe.

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