Understanding Your Teen

Teenagers can be challenging to raise. However, knowing what “makes them tick,” can make the job far easier. Let’s look at the typical characteristics of teenagers in order to better understand this period of life.

The following are some of the hallmarks of the teenage years, and some tips on how parents can help navigate them:

Rapid Physical Changes
Adolescence is a time of many physical changes as children gradually transform into young adults. For boys, there is a “growth spurt” — a rapid increase in height and weight, sometimes followed by changes in bone structure. Hair starts to grow in different places: the face, the armpits, the legs and the pubic areas. The adolescent’s voice deepens, and sounds more “grown up.” There are increases in muscle mass and strength as well.

Girls are also have sudden increases in height and weight. Breasts develop, hips become more defined, and body hair grows in the pubic and armpit areas. This is also the time when menstruation begins, often bringing along hormonally induced mood swings.

In both genders, the skin becomes more sensitive and sweaty, making adolescents more prone to pimples or acne. Kids develop at different paces – some making early changes and others making later ones. Often, kids are self-conscious about where they are in the normal distribution. Everyone wants to be “average” but of course, that isn’t possible. As a result, teens can feel embarrassed, inadequate or otherwise troubled by their physical changes: boys with squeaky voices and girls with flat chests can feel temporarily inadequate or self-conscious. Sometimes, the lingering consequences of insecurity can last for decades. Parents can help by being sensitive to their teens, never making rude jokes or unkind remarks. After all, every human being must go through adolescence on his or her way to adulthood. The gentle support and guidance of a parent can make the transition easier.

From Parent Approval to Peer Approval
At this stage of development, your child’s main focus of attention will shift from you to their same-aged classmates and friends. They may now prefer to spend more time with friends than with family members. Some kids don’t even want to be seen with parents in public! It’s all part of the push toward independence. Their “cutting of the apron strings” is a temporary phase: as your child journeys to adulthood, a healthy balance between family life and social life will emerge — and you’ll regain your place in their heart.

Testing Limits
As mentioned, kids at this time are exploring their identity and independence. Testing of rules and limits is all about pushing the borders now, bursting out of the protective shell. Teens might violate curfew, disobey house rules, experiment with various risk-taking behaviors, and constantly negotiate their “rights.” You might bring books home from the local library on subjects like smoking, alcohol, sex, drug use and so on. There are many books for this age group designed to be appealing to teens – with pictures and simple explanations this literature can provide the warnings and education your child needs in a teen-friendly way. Books can be a better method than dire warnings from an anxious parent.

At this point, parents should strike that balance between being understanding of their child’s need to be autonomous, and setting reasonable and consistent rules for their child’s safety and well-being.. As a rule, try to accommodate the new freedoms they ask for, for as long as safeguards are in place. Take the opportunity to teach about responsibility and accountability. It’s important NOT to establish rules that none of their friends have. Instead, allow your child to be a normal teen within his or her community and try to put your own fears to rest. It can be helpful to access the help of a parenting professional or mental health professional to get normal parameters such as age-appropriate curfews on weeknights and weekends, dress codes, use of alcohol and drugs and so on. If you have an accurate frame of reference, your rules will be more appropriate – and your child will probably have a greater respect for your decisions, which might lead to greater compliance with your rules.

An Increased Interest in Sexuality
Your child will now be showing an interest in all things sexual including advertisements, internet porn, and real people. Don’t be surprised if you see your normally “plain and simple” son or daughter dolling up a bit, and taking an interest in grooming, fashion and flirting. This is all a normal part of the growing up process. Modern teenagers may be more open about sexuality than older generations and may want to be sexually active and more sexually active at earlier ages. Many kids in today’s society are confused about their sexual orientation and some may benefit from professional guidance. Your job is to share your values, provide information and establish clear expectations. You probably don’t want your child to be making babies just quite yet but teenagers don’t automatically know how to prevent that from happening. Teach responsibility and safety in sexuality – don’t assume that your child has learned this at school or on the street. Your child needs to know about sexual diseases as well and how to both prevent them and identify early symptoms. Some parents arrange for the child’s doctor to explain the details of contraception and sexual protection from pregnancy and disease.

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