All too soon, children grow older and then emerge from their rooms one morning as virtual strangers to us, becoming irritable, opinionated and argumentative just about overnight!
Well, the great news about this is that it is indeed an integral part of our children’s development; in fact it was also an integral part of our own development! And looking back on our own experiences of emerging adolescence, we all too clearly remember how difficult it was to feel so intensely volatile, so confused about our growing bodies, and so unsure of ourselves. So, your obnoxious youngster seems to be on track with regard to his/her development!
Even better news is that there are indeed some quite elegant ways with which we as parents and educators can help diffuse difficult situations with our developing young people, and so we will explore some of these ideas. But before we do so, let us take a look at the causes of our young teens’ acting out behaviour, as this will help us understand a little bit more of where they are coming from with all of this. In fact, understand too why we ourselves were taking strain during our teen years!
So, what causes teenage acting out? Of course, there is no single cause to this, rather a complex multiple set of factors that develop as our kids mature into teens. Firstly, their bodily development speeds up due to hormonal secretions, leading to maturation, growth spurts and pimples. As one youngster once said to me, “I just don’t know myself anymore; I look in the mirror and do not see myself anymore!”
Secondly, the above-mentioned hormonal secretions also contribute to mood swings that come on quite suddenly, and again, this same young man mentioned above explained to me that he does not even understand himself, or why he feels so irritable one minute and quite fine the next. So how can other people understand him, he asked! Quite a distressing phase of development for our kids, indeed.
Thirdly, of course with accelerated growth and development, comes a shift in how our teens relate to the world – things once accepted without question, they now doubt, criticise and even scorn! Much of this has to do with their evolving and emerging value systems, personality traits and self-focus that is so needed for them to find their own unique space within their world. Teens are particularly keen to fit in, to belong, to not be like their parents and to be accepted by their peers. This time in their lives is a time of being acutely aware of how critical their mates can be, themselves being wrapped up in their own insecurities and uncertainties.
However, now that we understand a bit better of where teens and their moods come from, we return to the question – what to do about this? During the teenage years, our kids’ requirements of parenting shift, they no longer want us around all the time, instead, they quite enjoy a bit of space yet knowing we are close by should they need us. So, our most valuable contributions during the teen years will be that of :
# Setting the right example, first and foremost!
# Being aware of what is happening in their lives so that we can step in if needed, and
# Being available for them should they need us in time of crisis.
The most important for us is to help ensure, through safe and flexible boundaries that our teens do not act out so much that they lose face and cannot find their way back to being proud and accomplished people. Teens need to understand that it is not acceptable to take out one’s anger at the world around you, rather process the feelings in a more acceptable way. It is for this reason that we try to discipline with love and care and dignity instead of ending in shouting matches and punitive measures – positive discipline rather than negative punishment. For example, having to washing the car to make up for a mishap, or writing a letter of apology; rather than being shouted at.
But what if things do go wrong and our kids venture too far down the wrong path, or act out too much? Do trust your instincts as a parent and an adult, on this – when in doubt about the wellbeing of your teen, or the rest of the family, or someone/something else, consult with a counsellor with immediate effect. Do not hesitate on this; you and your precious teen deserve a quality consultation with someone who can help put things back on track!
(Janet Nel is a psychologist at Al Harub Medical Centre)