<... Understanding your Teenager
The first and most important requirement for a good relationship with your teen is to gain their trust and to build mutual respect.
If a common trust and mutual respect between parent and teenager has already been established early on in their lives as small children, it will be found that they will communicate better and are generally more open and honest about their issues and feelings, which makes it possible for the parent to play a more meaningful role in giving them continued guidance and direction. However, many teens are not always prepared to share their innermost feelings with their parents and we should respect that.
It is very difficult to acquire the trust and respect of a young person for the first time when he or she is already a teen. As I said before, the important job of building trust, love and respect should begin when the child is young and naturally more open and trusting. This is why it is so difficult for step-parents to build a relationship with a teen who has not known them since early childhood.
However, it is not impossible to regain or to form a relationship with a person in his or her teens, provided we are aware of the obstacles involved. This will be a slow process in which the respect and trust of the teen will need to be earned by means of a good example, genuine concern and integrity. Teens are very observant and quick to point out any discrepancy in the behaviour of adults, and only those adults who are genuine in their concern and who behave consistently and with integrity, will pass the "teen respect test".
A little understanding of their specific personality, problems and needs will go a long way in building or re-building a relationship.
Teenagers do not normally respond well to the use of force or threats, as this threatens the self-image they are attempting to build up of themselves as independent and coping individuals. In some cases, when confronted openly, they will either fight back with strong arguments, anger and resentment or flee into withdrawal. With teens the emphasis should shift more towards discussion, guidance and co-operation with regard to the rules and limits set by parents rather than expecting total and unconditional obedience.
Teens respond well to support and positive reinforcement (praise). In other words, this means supporting them in their interests and sporting endeavours and being prepared to boost them emotionally and psychologically wherever possible. This sort of positive involvement in their lives makes it possible to give guidance without being too invasive or directive. Teens do require quite a degree of privacy, this allows them to create a personal space which identifies them as an individual with their own rights.
Parenting is a very difficult task and with teens, sometimes the secret to gaining their trust and co-operation is merely timing, knowing when to approach and when and how to confront on an issue.
Many parents I have spoken to tell me that they love their (teenage ) children but do not like them very much. Here they are obviously referring more to their behaviour or attitudes, which may be unacceptable. However, loving unconditionally means being prepared to spend time and patience with your teen and supporting him or her even if you are not very happy with his or her behaviour at times.
We need to learn to separate our love for our child from our non-acceptance of his or her attitude or behaviour. As I said before, teens are very subject to mood swings and sometimes we just need to learn not to react too quickly to negative attitudes or rude behaviour, which can pass quickly.
However, consistently bad behaviour may be due to immaturity, anti-social attitudes or low self-esteem as the result of issues from the past or even their present situation and may need to be addressed by a counsellor.
Unreasonable expectations from parents, especially with regard to school performance, have also been known to drive teenagers into behavioural problems, depression and even to suicide.
Teens can be very sensitive and will quickly sense if they are being judged and rejected because they are not performing or "not good enough", but will respond reasonably well to advice that is given honestly, without judgment and without long lecturing. If there are very real problems with school performance, drugs or alcohol, they should rather be addressed with the help of the relevant school, institution or a professional.
As the teenager grows older and more mature, they should systematically be allowed greater freedom. Once again, understanding their needs for independence (within reason) and their feelings on being "socially acceptable", will help in our own decision-making. We need to understand that teens do lack experience and it is our role to empower them in developing coping and life skills, by slowly giving them more and more responsibility and positive guidance.
Jimmy Henderson a well-known counsellor, metaphysical teacher, philosopher and regular radio talk show guest. He is the author of a number of articles as well as a self-help book entitled ‘Multi-Dimensional Thinking’ which is available at most bookshops.