Teenage years are often looked back on with bliss and nostalgia. It’s a particular developmental stage when one is not a child anymore but not quite yet an adult. Many perceive adolescents as rebels and trouble-makers, always moody, ready to fight, or overly dramatic.
As a parent of a teenager who might be deeply influenced by their friend group, doesn’t want to spend as much time with you, starts their first romantic relationships, or experiments with substances or risky behaviors, navigating these stormy waters can be pretty challenging. Without a doubt, the socioemotional development in adolescence is filled with unique issues like low self-esteem, mood swings, alienation, peer pressure, or even increased risk of developing mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation.
At the end of the day, adolescents are thrown into a deep end in their search for answers. They explore their identities by experiencing many things for the first time. Their bodies and voices transform, adding to their confusion. Teens seek independence and autonomy and undergo many social and emotional changes. Naturally, it can often get messy and chaotic. However, your assistance can make all the difference and play an essential role in your child’s life as you set a good example.
Let’s look at this socioemotional developmental stage and how you can step into the role of a supportive parent to your teenage child.
Common Struggles in Adolescence
An iconic child psychoanalyst and the author of a psychosocial theory, Erik Erikson, divides human life into separate periods, each focused on facing a particular developmental conflict. According to Erikson, teenagers solve their primary conflict by fulfilling psychosocial tasks and establishing one’s identity. If they fail to do so, they experience role confusion, which can lead to alienation, social isolation, or feeling like an outsider. To understand how to help them best, it’s crucial to take a closer look at the social and emotional changes they go through:
We all want to feel welcome and like we belong, but that requires knowing ourselves well and being aware of our preferences, passions, goals, and core values in life. Our destiny is not set in stone, and we’re not born programmed to follow a specific path. Instead, we find out who we are by exploring, trying different things, meeting new people, trying new foods, defining our sense of fashion, reading more, learning, and so on.
Teenage years focus on doing just that, with a big emphasis on social life. Some of the most common changes teens go through include:
- Seeking more independence and autonomy in the relationship with parents, which can result in spending less time together and keeping more things private.
- Placing huge importance on peer relationships and making new friends, who can easily influence one’s attitudes, interests, self-esteem, or (often risky) behaviors.
- Struggling with bullying, being ostracized and rejected by peers, which increases the risk of depression.
Did you know that our brains aren’t fully developed until our mid-20s?
In adolescence, a part of the brain that still needs to mature is called the prefrontal cortex. It’s responsible for planning, decision-making, and goal-setting, which is why many teens can be prone to risky behaviors, gaining new experiences, or dealing with anxiety-inducing situations differently than children or adults.
When it comes to their emotional life, as a parent of a teen, you might notice these changes:
- learning how to be more empathetic and express one’s emotions correctly,
- dealing with unpredictable and potent mood swings that often lead to conflicts,
- defining one’s moral compass or core values,
- struggling with negative self-image and low self-esteem as it’s strongly linked to one’s physical appearance and their need to be validated by other peers.
How to Support Your Adolescent Child
A good first step on the path of becoming a supportive parent to your adolescent child is taking time to reflect on questions like:
How can I be a better parent?
What can I do to support my child better?
How to help them grow without being too controlling?
Consider their point of view:
Whatever it is you’d like to do to support your child’s well-being and growth; it’s crucial to keep in mind the context in which teenagers exist and the struggles they might face, as it’ll help you:
- relate a bit better to them,
- see things from their perspective,
- act more accurately,
- navigate various challenges with greater empathy.
Model desired behaviors:
Setting an example is never an overrated idea. We, humans, are social creatures, and we also acquire new knowledge through observation.
For example, if you’d like your teenager to deal with their anger outbursts better, you can start with yourself. Next time there’s a conflict arising, and you feel your frustration growing bigger:
- Take some time to cool off instead of fighting.
- Meet together after some time and discuss what happened.
- Try creating a safe space within which your teenager will feel seen, heard, and understood.
Rather than expecting them to act correctly from the get-go, make sure you show them first how to handle emotionally straining situations in a healthy way.
Invite open conversations:
Your teenager might spend less time with you and much more with their friends, but that doesn’t mean they reject you. There will be situations when they’ll need your guidance, wisdom, and assistance, i.e.:
- when dealing with conflict situations with other peers,
- when interested in exploring their sexuality,
- when struggling with their mental health.
Teenagers might not seek contact with you, so take the initiative and maintain a habit of checking in with them.
Consider getting professional help:
Research shows that teens are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Additionally, suicide is one of the top causes of death among adolescents.
Talking about mental health with your teenage child should be one of your main priorities. If you see them struggling, speak to them. And remember that while discussing one’s issues with a trusted friend or a loved one can bring much comfort, it can be insufficient.
However, working with an experienced psychotherapist can make all the difference as they’re better equipped to:
- reach the root cause of some issues,
- identify any unhelpful beliefs and help you replace them with their healthy alternatives,
- Share practical techniques to regulate emotions and reduce stress.
If your teen is going through a difficult time, don’t wait for it to improve.
Contact us today to schedule a meeting and see if our services can meet their unique needs.