Overcoming the ups and downs of the teenage years

Overcoming the ups and downs of the teenage years

Right now, the world is still trying to cope during a pandemic. On top of that, your pre-teen or teen may be starting to go through physical and emotional changes. Their world as they know it, is completely unpredictable. Even if there are no visible transformations, they may be facing the internal challenges of adolescence. As they explore different identities, your child may start to distance from you as their friends become more and more important in their lives. You may even notice overly dramatic behaviour and sudden shifts in their mood. As parents, your biggest challenge is to find a balance between setting boundaries while giving your teen enough space to grow. Here are some tips when it comes to walking the tightrope of the teenage years.

Talk to your kids early and often
Simply answer their questions to the best of your ability without overloading them. If you don’t have the answers, maybe a trusted friend, family member or a doctor has the right advice. Ask your teen your own questions about experiencing any physical or emotional changes and why. You may have stories of your own worth sharing that they can relate to. If your child has uncertainty about the pandemic and how it will affect their future, explain to them that it’s okay to have concerns and that enduring hard times is a way to build strength. Just be honest with them, start talking early and keep the lines of communication open.

Prepare your teen by having some tough conversations
It’s inevitable that your teen is going to experiment as soon as they reach the transition period before entering adulthood, which may include risky behaviour. Talk to them about those tough topics before your kids deal with these issues so they’re more prepared to make responsible decisions if/when they find themselves in these situations. Some of the best lessons are learned through open discussion so don’t just give one-word answers. It’s important to explain family values and why you believe something is right and wrong, and it’s equally important that you allow your teen to express his or her feelings too.

Get to know your child’s friends and their parents
Any teenager will tell you that peer groups are a major influence on them so familiarize yourself with their friends and get to know their parents if you can. With more adults keeping an eye out, it’ll be easier to keep up with their activities. Ensure lines of communication are always open to promote transparency between kids and parents.

Give them some privacy
When you were a teenager, you probably didn’t want your parents to know about everything you did. Your child deserves the same privacy when it comes to texts, emails and calls — no need for them to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times (that would be exhausting for the both of you). For safety reasons, you should always know where teens are going, when they’ll be back, and who they’re out with, but you don’t need every little detail. Your teen may not want to go on every family outing with you and that’s ok. Encourage your teen to join in on a reasonable amount of family time but don’t get upset when they need some space (you remember what that age was like). As your child grows, your expectations may have to change too.

Before you object, ask yourself “is it worth it?”
Maybe you don’t agree with or understand your teen’s hairstyle, clothes, interests, music or even their selfie obsession. Many kids are looking to either fit in or stand out. Right now, they’re exploring their identity and looking for ways to express themselves, so you need to let them experiment. Save your objections for the things that really matter. There are times you’ll need to get involved when they’re dealing with more serious issues but eventually, your child is going to have to manage on their own. It’s time to start letting go of some of the control.

Set reasonable rules and boundaries
Bedtimes will obviously change as your child grows but keep in mind, they need a sufficient amount of sleep. You should still be enforcing a schedule that will meet their needs. It’s a good idea to set a curfew to ensure they’ll be home at a certain time every night. Although we rely on technology more than ever, don’t be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent on phones, computers or in front of the TV. Right now, learning and communicating may be entirely online, but that just reinforces the need for regular physical activity. To encourage quality family time, consider making the kitchen a device-free zone during mealtimes.

Spot the warning signs if your child is in trouble
A certain amount of change during the teenage years is normal but if you notice there’s been a sudden shift in your teen’s behaviour that lasts for more than 6 weeks, it may be a sign of something more serious. If they’re struggling, they may be in need of some professional help from a doctor, counselor, or a psychologist. Here are some of the warning signs to look out for:

  • Major shifts in sleep patterns (too little or too much)
  • Extreme weight gain or loss
  • Signs of bullying
  • Sudden withdrawal from their favourite activities
  • Drastic changes to personality and friend groups
  • Experimenting with alcohol, drugs or vaping
  • Skipping school or unexplainable failing grades
  • A complete disregard for personal hygiene
  • Significant changes in appetite (like binging or avoiding food)
  • Self-injury (talking about it or joking about suicide)
  • Excessive outbursts or extreme defiance
  • Secretive behaviour (lying or hiding things etc.)
  • Illegal behaviour (stealing, physical altercations etc.)

There’s a reason they say being a parent is the hardest job in the world, and helping your kids get through their teenage years could very well be the hardest part. They’re going to face some challenges along the way but you can’t fix everything for them. You can only support and teach them as they grow, giving them the confidence they need to take on the world and come out stronger on the other side.