From birth your child has depended on her parents for her every waking need. Now she desires space and the ability to make decisions and mistakes on her own. Suddenly you find yourself at a developmental crossroad. So what exactly is going on here?
According to Erik Erikson, the father of psychosocial development, adolescence is all about teens determining their identity outside of their parents. They wrestle with questions such as: “Who am I?” “What can I be?” and, “What defines me?” For the first time in your child’s life, his focus has shifted from parents as the primary significant relationship to himself in relation to his peer group. Cognitively, a teen’s mind is somewhere between no longer fitting into the role of child, but also not yet a fully experienced adult. During this time, a teen’s adventure for self-direction goes toe-to-toe with a parent’s life experience and concern. Parents recognize the hazards of inexperience, but adolescents characteristically believe they are indestructible. Herein lies the battleground of “who knows best.”
So what do they want?
To be heard: Listen to her. The feelings are real, sometimes shaded by a loss of perspective, but still valid. He wants to know that you, as a parent, care about how he is feeling.
To be understood: All these new things can create conflicting thoughts and feelings within the teen, such as, excitement mixed with fear. Being scared may also feel thrilling, which may be why she seems unsure of what she wants. She may want to pursue something, causing an equal amount of fear and anxiety.
To be valued (read: not feel judged): Take an interest. You may or may not be interested in what can happen at the next level of the video game he is working hard to master – but you can bet he will want to tell you about it.
To be “independent” and “free”: Teenagers need to be respected by being given some autonomy to grow up, make mistakes, and ultimately, become a full-fledged adult. That learning begins while they are still under your roof and your rules.
Much like adults, adolescents seek to know and be known. So have the discussion. Talk out potential consequences, and help them learn through the difficulties of whatever the “successes” or “failures” may look like. Ask her what she’s feeling, thinking, doing. The more joint understanding and compromise that can be found, the more respected both adolescents and parents will feel. Parents have to release the fear that their adolescent’s mistakes may have long-lasting consequences. For parents, the battle of adolescence is simultaneously guiding their teen in love while beginning to release him into the world.