Parenting Teenagers

Helping your teenager cope with crises and stress

Life with a teenager can feel like a crisis all by itself to many parents. Or perhaps a series of crises, punctuated by oases of calm connectedness. The truth is, life as a teenager IS very stressful, as we all know. How a teenager learns to manage the tumult of emotions can set the stage for the management of difficult times in adulthood as well.

Parenting teenagers is often fraught with paradox. As much as teens declare through actions and words, that they are independent and don't need us, secretly they often are yearning for the very same rules, guidance and comfort that they seemingly reject. It is in the deciphering of the code of adolescent communication which allows an opportunity for parents still to do their job.

Therapists do their job by helping parents gain new perspective and to “reframe” the meaning of their teenager's experiences.

  The following four characteristics are fairly common of teenagers. If communicated in moderation- with an understanding for their intentions, these characteristics can be the underpinnings of a successful approach to adulthood. Furthermore, rather than simply punishing him or her, talking to your teenager about your own painful emotional reaction to each of these characteristics-when they are taken to the extreme, will teach compassion and the law of cause and effect. While interpreting and reframing the positive aspect of the impulse, healthy emotional growth will be reinforced.

1. Attitude-which comes across as disrespectful and challenges authority.

Typically teens show a lot of attitude-which can feel disrespectful and downright nasty. Setting limits on unacceptable behavior and language is always necessary as a parent, but a simultaneous validation of the underlying meaning of this attitude can be affirming. Challenging authority and "thinking outside the box", so to speak, are important attributes for a growing into a confident and creative adult.

2. Drama-which is overemotional and represents the existence of hormones, as well as a passion for life.

Feeling things strongly is a hallmark of adolescence, and can be disruptive to everyone within earshot. But having a zest for life and being passionate about one's experience are attributes of a successful and interesting life.

3. Criticalness-which is judgmental and polarizing.

Developing opinions and a unique voice are forms of self expression for future relationships and careers, and a necessary separation -individuation from parents.

4. Impulsivity-- comes across as dangerous and irresponsible.

Being spontaneous also represents openness and adventuresomeness toward the challenges of adulthood and life in the 21st century.

5. Substance use-comes across as risk taking and escapist.

Of all of these, substance use is probably the most controversial. Some would say that no amount of substance use is acceptable (or reframe-able) as a teenager or as an adult. But, like it or not, alcohol, at the very least, is rampant in society, and knowing how to be in its presence is an important skill for anyone to have. On the other hand, many teenagers (and adults) do not learn moderation, and instead use it to cope, and to stunt their own emotional development. Experts in the field say that for someone who is addicted or severely abusing substances, he or she arrests their ability to manage emotions and stress, at the age at which they started abusing. For parents, modeling appropriate behavior is probably the most effective way to deal with this issue.

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