Being a teenager has never been easy, and these days our teens are presented with more challenges than ever before. Most of these challenges are relevent to both girls and boys but both sexes have their own set of gender specific issues as well. It is a time of huge internal and external change and transition as our children start to emerge from and seperate from us, their parents or care givers.
Each individual teenager will experience the world in their own unique way, depending on what their life has been like to date. Adolescence is an absolutely key time for our development as adults and can set up healthy or unhealthy patterns for an awfully long time. As parents we must be mindful and respectful of what our children are experiencing and able to set healthy boundaries and guidelines for them, whilst allowing some freedom to explore and start making decisions of their own. Absolutely key to being able to do this is looking at our own values and beliefs – what do we expect from our children, is that realistic for them, where do these values and beliefs come from? Have our values and beliefs helped us or might some of them have held us back in some way, or contributed to us feeling not very good about ourselves? If this is the case, why do we want to impose them on our children?
It is always a good idea to try to understand someone elses point of view, even if we don’t agree with it, we all have a unique set of events, traumas and experiences, our reactions, emotions and beliefs around these, are what informs our view of the world. Simply put do you look at that proverbial glass of water and see it as half full or half empty – both are true? Is one view more important than the other?
Our children will have, inevitably, inherited many of our value systems as we did from our own parents, but they will also be forming some of their own and these new values may not be in accord with ours eg. one of our values may be to keep our bedrooms neat and tidy at all times, for most teenagers this comes very low down on their list of priorities! We can choose to simply impose that value on our children and be in a constant state of conflict with them over it, or we can set some clear guidelines/boundaries for communal spaces but allow them free reign in their own spaces and see what happens.
I know from my own experience with both girls and boys that as a parent it is wise to choose your battles very carefully! It is always interesting to look at whether our own need for tidyiness or perfection is serving us well or whether it may be limiting us or causing us a problem, and if so why, where does it come from? A good question to ask yourself is ‘what does it feel like to do the opposite of whatever the behaviour is?
For me understanding our own values and beliefs and therefore being conscious of when those are being challenged is key to minimising unnecessary conflicts with an emerging young adult – reserve your energy for the really important stuff and let go of the minor issues!
- Mood swings & emotional yo-yoing! – This may be the biggest single change that parents notice in their previously sweet natured and obliging children! This is almost all down to the massive hormonal changes taking place within your child and those changes are also reflected in their outside lives as they will be being asked to make bigger and bigger decisions around school, friends, sports clubs, clothes, music, social media etc etc. Having been all focused on the family unit, their world is now expanding rapidly. Much of their energy is taken up with these changes and the processing of what they mean to them, that’s really exhausting and the school timetable does not allow for this very real need for extra sleep and processing time. I know that I get very snappy and irritable if I have any prolonged period of insufficient sleep, so why should it be any different for a young adult? In addition the internal body clock of adolescents means that they are often wide awake at night, when we are ready for bed, and they will then need to catch up by sleeping late into the day. This is obviously tricky on school days! If we can maintain a habit of always responding respectfully and politely no matter what the demand is, and not losing our tempers at percieved rudeness or temper outbursts then the energy is often dissipated quicker and we are not being pulled into childish battles of will that get us nowhere. Being aware of the maybe new found need for privacy and allowing it, providing any agreed family committments are adhered to, is helpful and can be used as an incentive to doing chores or specific tasks. Offering lifts or access to the WIFI or late passes for social events can be pitched as incentives and to be ‘earnt’ rather than taken for granted. I believe that rewarding the positive behaviour and ignoring the negative can be helpful, particularly when we are dealing with young adults that are not fully in control of their hormones! Alternating moods and changes of behaviour are normal parts of being a teenager but if there is any really worrying behaviour that is prolonged eg depression or violence then seek professional help.
- “You don’t understand!” – The most common retort of many young adults to their parents, and can be particularly frustrating when we feel we understand only too well! However it pays to really examine our beliefs – none of us can walk in anyone elses shoes, do we really know and understand the particular experiences of our children – all the social pressures & politics, demands of school or even physical experiences? Rather than responding automatically, sitting down and saying something like – ‘actually you’re right, I would really like to understand what’s going on for you, can you tell me or give me an outline of the problem and how it’s affecting you, you don’t have to tell me the details if you don’t want to?’ – will be much more likely to keep the communications lines open. It is seldom a good idea to be shutting doors and discouraging a teenager from sharing as much as they are able to, within the confines of their own language and understanding. Apart from anything, you are teaching them a) that its Ok to share their problems and emotions because they won’t be judged and will still be loved, also that b) they can ask for help and get it, in order to find solutions.
- “Everyone else is doing it!” – I heard that alot when my kids were teens! This is actually a perfectly common response to trying to make sense of the world and something we all do automatically so that we can feel comfortable and that we belong, we aren’t different or odd. Adolescence is a key time for this sense of community or tribal belonging to be challenged – a beginning of leaving one tribe – the family – and starting to find our own tribe of like minded peers. Its when we aren’t quite sure of our new desires and behaviours that we look to our peers for a sense of being ‘right’, accepted and significant. It’s tempting to respond as parents with a blanket ‘I don’t care what everyone else is doing………’ particularly when you know the statement is not true. However I found it more productive to take the time to examine each event with fresh eyes and once again fight my battles wisely. I am not for one minute suggesting that any parent give in to clearly unacceptable demands, but asking ourselves what our decisions will really mean for our children is important. If they are ultimately feeling isolated and left out of their group of friends because they are the only ones being collected 2 hours early from a party, or not being allowed to wear makeup, or wear a certain shoe etc, is it better for them to continue feeling this because they are adhering to your value system, or can you compromise and thus boost your childs confidence? Peer pressure was always present but social media and global marketing has made it much more of a pressure than ever before. Giving your child the tools to withstand that kind of pressure and ultimately to value their individuality will stand them in good stead as adults, but it doesn’t come from being rigid and inflexible. We all need to experience things for ourselves in order to learn and grow – have trust that your children may want to try things but they will quickly work out what works for them and what doesn’t. It’s far better for them to do that experimentation within the safe framework that you provide, than do it in secret, behind your back.
- Hair, skin, teeth & nails. – Teenagers can be extremely self-consious of any perceived ‘flaws’, due to a desperate desire to ‘fit in’ & be accepted. Unfortunately due to all the hormonal changes and often unhealthy eating and sleeping habits, this is a time for spots and acne. Naturally this can just feed in to any insecurities or identity issues. Again due to rampant hormones and all the internal disruptions hair can become greasy or lank, there can be weight issues and things like athletes foot or fungal nail infections. Encouraging skin and hair care that is healthy and non-toxic whilst explaining the link between an unhealthy diet and not enough sleep can be an uphill battle. But again it’s an opportunity to instill these healthy habits and set up self-care routines for life. Make sure you are doing the very self care habits you are trying to instill – monkey see, monkey do (even if they would rather die than admit it!!) I treat alot of young adults with skin issues that have been made worse by long term anti-biotics or being put on the contraceptive pill or highly toxic drugs like Roaccutane. Skin health is directly affected by hormonal and digestive health so understanding why the skin may be disrupted is vital to finding a long term solution. There are many Homeopathic remedies that have made a huge difference to my young Clients and their parents, as well as some simple and practical coaching techniques that can be adopted to support low self-confidence whilst the skin heals and the gut starts working better.
- Sexuality for Girls – The majority of people I work with are women and the majority of the issues women come to me for are hormonally based – problems with menstruation at all stages of life including puberty. Alot of girls are begining their menstrual bleeds earlier and earlier and unfortunately are experiencing lots of problems including irregularity, painful cramping, mood swings, migraines, PMS etc or they are not menstruating at all when they should be. Often there are physical reasons for this and messing with the hormonal system further with medications like The contraceptive Pill can just make things worse. Using Homeopathic remedies to address whatever the underlying issue is has no side effects or other health implications, and can re-blance and restore health relatively quickly. Periods should not effect our health or prevent us from doing anything so if they are, something is not working as it should and it can be addressed quite easily and painlessly with Homeopathy. Again our own menstrual patterns and our attitudes and behaviours around it play a huge part in how our daughters experience their emerging womanhood. Alot of fears and anxieties can get played out around periods as well as the meanings attached to it. I recently treated a young Mother whose very fearful attitude to her femininity and sexuality, was rooted in how she was treated when she had her first monthlies. She was told to keep it quiet, it was shameful and dirty and she should not play with boys any more or have them as friends, including her brothers – (she was 10 years old!). We worked together using both Homeopathic remedies and some Coaching techniques to enable her to release these anxieties and feelings of shame. Another area not often talked about is the emergence of breasts in young girls – they can be sore and tender and affect sporting activities. But they can also be a source of shame or fear or embarrassment and if not properly addressed, these feelings can last through into adulthood. There aren’t drugs to address these issues, but there are Homeopathic remedies and a safe and confidential place in my consulting room to explore and release any inhibiting feelings.
6. Sexuality for Boys – Obviously boys don’t experience menstruation, but they do experience a variety of hormonally driven physical changes eg hair growth, acne, impromptu erections, voice dropping etc. All these at the same time as a new awareness of the opposite sex and their own percieved imperfections and flaws. In my experience boys suffer as much as girls regarding self-esteem and self-confidence issues and these days in body consciousness issues as well. The pressure to have the perfect ‘ripped’ body is becoming as imperative for our sons as well as our daughters. It’s vital to allow privacy and not instill shame or embarrassment around those stains on the bed linen as well as giving practical support eg, buying shaving equipment and demonstrating how to use it or even just helping with body odor, (not anti-perspirants please, deodrants are healthier).
What is also vital is setting a good example and instigating open discussion around how to treat and relate to girls. With the best will in the world you are not going to be able to fully control your son’s access to some kind of pornography either in magazines or online, what he takes from it and whether he stays with it depends on the health of the family environment around sex. Ensuring that he has strong healthy female role models as well as male will make a huge difference. I have helped a number of teenage boys and have a son myself and I know they can be very reticent to talk directly about anything, but often welcome something to help sort out acne or greasy hair or body odor. Once they are comfortable with me and have seen improvements physically they often feel better able to talk about the more emotionally based issues that may be bothering them.
I will also add that whilst it’s true that very young men and boys can have a shockingly sexist attitude to girls, it is also true that girls can treat boys extremely badly and start disfunctional patterns of low self confidence and shame due to their own problems. Boys are not the stronger sex emotionally, despite what some would have us believe – all our teenagers can be vunerable and they really need our full understanding and support. Sometimes that means seeking the help of Practitioners like myself and that help is available for Mum or Dad as well as their young adults!
If you recognise any of the above and you feel that working with me either for yourself or your son or daughter, is something that could help you, then please send me an email or register for my free Q&A call to find out how I can help you build strong, healthy young adults and send them into the world better able to cope with whatever life gives them.