The transition from child to teen can be a very challenging time for parents, watching a child grow up and begin to pull away from the family unit, wanting to spend more and more time with peers. They wonder why their children don't want to spend as much time doing the 'family thing' with them. It's important to understand that, as children grow into teens, they begin to look toward their future; by pulling away from their families; they are simply searching for independence.
The teenage years are often when issues arise; parents continue to want to play a supportive role in their child's life, while the teens are fighting to stand on their own. Many parents feel that their children still need guidance as they deal with the many issues that face teens today: drugs, alcohol, and extreme peer pressure, as well as emotional struggles. Teens want to figure these things out by themselves. How do parents and teens find balance in their relationships? How can parents connect with teens and encourage them to speak openly and to trust them?
In Don't Give Up on Your Kids, S. J. Carr shares some of the things she has learned over the years in her extensive work with children and teens-most notably, why it's important to never give up.
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Don't Give Up on Your KidsUnderstanding and Believing in Teens
By S. J. Carr
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 S. J. Carr
All right reserved.
A common complaint from teens is that they feel misunderstood: they feel as if nobody understands where they are coming from. This feeling, however warranted, creates friction between the teen and the parent. The teenage years can be a very difficult time; teenagers feel as if they are grown up but, at the same time, feel confused about what their future holds. They may be going through so many biological changes that they themselves may not know why they feel the way they do. It can be a very trying time for both the parent and the teen.
Conflicts arise between parents and teen when the teens feel that they are grown up and don't need parental guidance anymore. They feel that they can make decisions about their own life. Parents feel that they are trying to help their teens and still need control over their teens' lives. This is where the conflicts begin. The truth is both the teens and the parents are right, which is why the "heated discussions" begin.
Teens are looking for independence while parents don't want to let go of the control.
From the parents' view: Parents sometimes feel that their teens are too irresponsible, immature and impulsive to make informed decisions about their own lives. How can wild and crazy teens make decisions that will affect their future? Parents are afraid that if they allow their teens to make decisions, they will make wrong choices that can affect their future. While these are all potentially true, there comes a point when you have to let go and hope that you have instilled in them the proper values and morals that will enable them to make the right choices. They may not always make the right choices, but after all, life is a learning process.
From the teens' view: Growing up means being grown up. They feel that since they are "not kids anymore", they should be able to make decisions about their own lives and don't want their parents telling them what to do. The more the parents try to "interfere" in their lives, the more they feel they have to pull away.
As adults, we may think that teens have it made, that they have no real responsibilities. Adults may assume that all teens have to do is get up, go to school, socialize, finish their day at 3:30 and continue to socialize with their friends. Parents may also think that just because teens don't have to worry about paying the mortgage and bills, that they are getting off easy and shouldn't complain.
But teens do have responsibility and feel pressure. Not only do they have to live up to your expectations and schooling, they also have the pressures of fitting in socially within their peer groups. While this may not seem like a big deal to adults, it can be a very challenging and stressful time for teens who are struggling to find themselves. Some teens feel that they don't fit in anywhere. They may be struggling both academically and socially at school, and may also be having problems relating to their parents at home. It doesn't take much for teens to feel overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed feelings can lead to frustration, anger and a total breakdown of communication. They just stop caring. When they stop caring, they can turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.
When teens feel too much pressure and have no one to talk to, they may become unsure of what to do or where to turn and begin to internalize these feelings. Many times, they feel alone and feel as though they are the only ones who are feeling like this. Even if they do have friends they can talk to, they may choose not to, out of the fear of being ridiculed. They may act as if everything is fine, even if they are in turmoil inside.
This is why it is important to know your teens. If you can sense when your teens are having a hard time, then you may be able to validate their feelings and let them know that mixed-up feelings and turmoil can be a normal part of growing up. Let them know that you don't expect them to be perfect; reassure them and accept them as they are.
In order to understand them, we need to try to see things from their point of view. In their eyes, life may not be that easy, and although they may not have the same pressures that adults face, they have different stresses that are equally valid. Be open and honest with them, share stories from your youth, things that you may have gone through. Sometimes it helps to know that they are not the only ones who have ever felt confused.
Overwhelmed with school: When they feel overwhelmed, instead of telling them what to do, help them work through the issues by breaking them down. It is much easier to deal with one issue at a time than to sort out everything at once. By helping them break down their problems into smaller ones, it makes the problem seem much more bearable and provides them with problem-solving skills that they can carry with them throughout their lives. Keep the lines of communication open and do frequent check-ins with them, just touching base. If they are having problems at school, encourage them talk to their teachers instead of avoiding the issue by skipping classes. If teachers are aware that they are having problems, they can work with your teens and help them, without making the teens feel bad or worthless.
If your teens have approached the teachers and nothing is being done, don't give up: have them talk to their guidance counselor or principal. There are many different avenues that school boards can take when teens are having problems.
Classroom settings don't work for everyone. Some teens like to work independently at their own pace while still attaining the credits needed to graduate.
Working independently takes away the classroom pressures of peers knowing how quickly or slowly they work. They don't have to keep up with their peers; they can simply work at their own pace. When working independently, they can remain in the classroom, go into a separate class where there are several kids working independently or, in some cases, they can take independent study booklets home. It really does take away a lot of pressure and makes them feel independent and good about themselves and their future.
Many parents and teachers reading this many not agree with what I am going to say, however I feel it is important to mention as it is a big problem for many parents and teens and leads to many arguments. I'm going to discuss the issue of skipping. Skipping can be part of being a teen, most teens have skipped at some point. The important thing for your teens to realize is that there are differences in skipping.
When my kids started high school, I had a realistic talk with them, I told them that I didn't expect them to never skip a class. What I told them is that they are the ones who are responsible for their education and their future. I explained that they may be able to miss the odd class or two and still keep up their grades, but it becomes a problem when too much skipping begins to affect their grades. I explained that by doing this, they are only hurting themselves, since if they fail the class, they will have to redo the class, possibly even adding on a semester after they graduate, thereby extending their school career.
Years ago, that may have not mattered as much to teens, as they could drop out of school and work. Now, the government is beginning to implement strategies to keep teens in school. In Ontario, the government has recently implemented a law that does not allow teens to get their full "G" driving license unless they have graduated. This has become a very big incentive for teens to stay in school and therefore limit or self-regulate their own skipping, as most teens look forward to getting their driver's license. It puts the accountability on them.
Some of you reading this may think I'm saying it's okay for teens to skip classes. Take a minute to think about the adult population. How many times do adults take a day off work every now and then and call in sick when they aren't really sick? Taken a mental health day ? Take extended lunches when the weather gets nicer? What I am trying to say is that as long as we are responsible, "skipping", as either teens or adults, can be a normal part of life. Everyone at some point likes to have time off, away from daily responsibilities.
"It's not that some people have will power and somedon't. It's that some people are ready to change and others are not." — James Gordon
"The first step to getting what you want out of life is this: decide what you want." — Ben Stein
Overwhelmed parents: They say that being a parent is one of the hardest jobs there is. When we become parents, we don't receive handbooks or instruction booklets. The reason parenting can be so challenging is that all children are different, all having their own likes and dislikes, attitudes and types of defiance. Even children from the same family, with the same parents, can have completely different personalities, leaving parents to adapt to their children's separate needs. Add to that different parenting styles, with parents having grown up in completely different households with different rules: one parent believing in one parenting style and the other believing in a complete different form of parenting. It can be very challenging, with both parents thinking they are right and attempting to find a common ground.
~Being a Parent~
It's hard being a parent. As parents, we feel we will forever be responsible for our children. The reason for this is because we become emotionally attached to "being a parent"; we feel that how they turn out is directly related to how we parented them. Not true. Life happens. We can't predict how life is going to go; there are many external factors that occur that we have no control over.
It is true that when they are children, we are fully responsible for the way they act and the things they do, because they are younger and need the direct guidance. However, when they become teens, things change: they become more independent and begin to become responsible for their own actions. It is at this point, when they are spreading their wings, that we have to take a few steps back and let their own individuality come out.
Think back to when you found out you were going to be a parent ... we all have these preconceived notions about how we want our kids to turn out. What we are forgetting is that "we" are not "our kids". Although our kids are a product of our creation, they are not 'mini-me's'. They are not exact replicas of ourselves. They have their own minds, their own temperaments and personalities and their own dreams and desires.
When they are young, it is easy to mold our kids into what we want, for we can dress them according to our taste, tell them when it's bedtime, choose their friends and know what they are doing all of the time. Then the fun teenage years begin ...
When they become teens, they begin to separate and want to find their own individuality. They want to begin making their own decisions, choosing how they dress, choosing their bedtime, choosing their own friends, etc. This is where and why conflicts begin between parents and teens.
Parents want to stay involved in their teens' lives, and teens want to break away. It's a normal part of growing up. Reassuring to parents is that even though teens are striving for their independence, they still need and want parental involvement; it just has to change. We still need to be there for our teens with guidance and advice, but not in a controlling manner. The role of being a parent changes.
~Parents Blaming Themselves~
Parents sometimes don't understand what happened or where they may have gone wrong. They wonder what has happened to their precious children. They may blame themselves for not doing enough, for working too hard or for not spending enough time with them. Parents may think that had they done things differently — had they not gone through a separation or divorce, had more money or done more things — then things may have turned out differently.
Not true. Don't blame yourself or let your teens blame you for your circumstances or for their behaviour. It is not the traumatic events that your children may have gone through that influenced them negatively; life is full of different experiences, both positive and negative.
Your child will have to learn that life isn't always perfect, that they can't always get what they want and that things will happen that they may not like. It is actually a very valuable life lesson to learn. Problems will arise, it's the way you deal with the circumstances in your life that matter.
Chapter Two~Acting Out ~
When teens feel mixed up, they can lose control of their emotions quickly and begin acting out. But problems arise when the acting-out behaviours don't satisfy their internal needs, which leads to more acting out and becomes a spiral of emotions.
We all have an internal need to feel cared for, to be loved and to feel secure. It's when these needs aren't met that kids begin to unknowingly internalize their feelings and begin acting out. These feelings turn into negative emotions, thoughts and behaviours that create an "I don't care" attitude. They do care; they just put up a guard in order to not feel hurt, to try to make the negative feelings go away. However, the "I don't care" attitude ends up having the opposite effect: it makes things worse and lands them in even more trouble.
That is when you see acting out occur not just at home, but also at school and in the community. Although we may not understand what is affecting our children or teens, and they themselves may not be conscious of it either, they are acting out for a reason. The reason can be anything from biological changes, feeling the stress that may be within the family, or not understanding something at school. It doesn't take much for kids to act out. If they are having problems at school, it may be easier for them to act up and get into trouble than to face the actual problem. In their eyes, if they get sent down to the office, they've dodged the problem because now they don't have to do the work. What they don't see is that it is much easier to get the help when they begin to have problems, instead of ignoring them. By ignoring a problem, it simply becomes bigger and turns into something that will be even harder to fix.
For example: A student who acts up instead of asking for help will just get further behind their peers. Their negative feelings will multiply, and the acting out may become worse. When they see their peers understanding the concept and moving on, their self-esteem will plummet. They may say things like, "I'm just dumb," or "I'm not smart enough."
Instead of verbalizing these feelings, they keep it inside and continue to feel negatively about themselves. What we have to do when acting out occurs is to look at the bigger picture. Try to get inside their heads and be aware of any changes that may have occurred in their life that may be causing the acting-out. It may take some time and be difficult, or it may be an obvious thing, such as a learning disorder or family issues such as frequent arguing within the home.
Could they be having a hard time in school?
Do they have problems learning or staying focused?
Are they being bullied? Are they bullying?
Could they be jealous of a sibling?
Has one sibling accomplished something that they haven't?
Are things okay within the home? Financial troubles? New baby? A move? Divorce?
Remember, kids are very intuitive and pick up on things that we may not even realize, so when trying to find a reason for your child's behaviour, leave no stone unturned. Once you think you know what it could be, then you can work on making changes. Keep in mind that it can be time-consuming; there won't be a light-bulb moment, and you won't find solutions overnight. Their behaviour didn't occur overnight, and solutions won't happen quickly either.
The key is communication, lots of patience and acceptance. Let your kids know that regardless of their actions, you will be there, and try not to say things to them that may make them feel worse. By acknowledging that the acting-out behaviours are happening for a reason, you can work on finding solutions.
I had one student in Grade 1 who appeared very distracted one morning during circle time. I noticed that she was slowly wiping away tears, not wanting to bring attention to herself. I asked her if she was okay, and she replied, "Yes," but was still visibly upset. When I asked her to help me with something, we began talking. It turned out that she was upset because she had witnessed her mom and stepfather having an argument. Kids, especially younger children, don't understand why their parents may fight and assume that any type of arguing is bad. They may be afraid that their parents will get divorced or that one parent may move out.
Sometimes, when we argue with our spouses, we may say things that we don't mean in the heat of the moment, but a child overhearing these things may take them to heart. From an early age, children should be taught that it is okay to have disagreements sometimes and that even though it may be scary to them, they should always be reassured that parental discussions can become heated. Of course, all attempts should be made to keep from fighting in front of kids, but in reality, we don't always make conscious choices or schedule our disagreements for when the kids are not around!
Excerpted from Don't Give Up on Your Kids by S. J. Carr Copyright © 2010 by S. J. Carr. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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