Teens undergo a long, mercurial period of self-realization infused with discovery, experimentation, fear and bravado. Parents often feel like helpless bystanders as they watch their children navigate the challenges of life as a teenager. Parents can take some solace in the fact that nearly all teens face the same issues as they mature and prepare to move out into the world. Prepare to meet the challenges by understanding the issues teens face and what they need to survive and thrive.
Puberty happens to teens and parents alike. Hormones cause the growth of breasts, body hair and more physical growth than at any other time since infancy. Your son’s voice cracks and deepens. Your daughter’s feet seem unnaturally large. Some changes your teen doesn’t want you to know about or see. You consider the acne, menstrual cycles and body odor added to the emotional roller-coaster of anger, sadness, sensitivity and inexplicable happiness and wonder if this person is your child. Puberty is a wonderful and a scary time for teens. Your teen will need a lot of patience and support to get through these years.
Adolescents began to separate from their parents. You might notice that your teen has an increased need for privacy. She might appear more secretive and more easily frustrated by your interference. She wants to make her decisions and is more interested in the opinions of friends. Your teen seeks more freedom, yet still needs you to set and enforce the limits. Changes at home to allow her more choices and participation in decision-making are a good way to respect her increasing maturity. Respect her privacy, allow more freedom in protected settings and step in when she needs help. This combination allows her to grow knowing she has a safety net.
For most teens, social standing and the acceptance of peers becomes increasingly important. As they seek more independence and begin to experiment with styles and identities, they also notice the many ways they differ from other teens. Teens want to fit in and achieve some level of popularity. The issue of social standing can be mixed with economic worries when teens want the popular electronics, clothing and money for social activities. The issue of social acceptance, which can affect self-image and confidence, tests your teen’s ability to make decisions based on what you have taught her.
Health and Safety
Teen health issues become more critical as adolescents make more decisions away from parents. Teens make more of their own nutritional choices, such as what to eat at lunch and whether to drink pop. They learn about extreme behaviors around food and exercise that can lead to obesity or eating disorders. Peer pressure can lead to bad decisions about substance abuse or sex. Bullying and stress from family and school issues can lead to mental health problems. Safety issues involve risk-taking, including texting while driving and ignoring warnings about dangerous activities. Your teen, although older and more mature, might actually need closer monitoring and more frequent reminders of the rules and the best choices for protecting his health and safety.
Teens can become overwhelmed with stress and make bad choices. Parents can talk to teens about how to manage stress and when to ask for help. Stay involved with your teen’s life by listening, asking questions and working together to develop and practice coping mechanisms and stress techniques. Parents who make the best efforts at raising resilient and resourceful teens may still need help when challenges become crises. School counselors, mentoring programs, mental health professionals and your family doctor are good places to start when more help is needed. Encourage your teen to learn about the helpful resources in his community.