Teenage’ is conceptualised as a journey from Childhood to adulthood. In the same way ‘parenting teenagers’ can also be considered as a journey; to guide a child to adulthood, to ingrain values, to help negotiate social relationships. To see new ideas, deals, goals & independence emerge in a child can be the adventure of a life time, like any other adventure; the thrill is in the journey. Challenges conquered sweeten the success while failure is in part unavoidable. No one can know how the balance of success & failure measures out until the journey is complete. As long as the journey continues there is a hope; a chance to turn failures into success, weakness into strengths. The challenges are unique to each traveller. Even the same parents experience different challenges as each child is guided through teenage.
Parents who accept that children will sometimes act in a way that is churlish or undesirable and who prepare them to discipline their behaviour, may discover that the journey is joyful & heaven is found along the way. All parents want to raise a happy, successful child, but there is little consensus about how best to reach this goal. As parents, teachers we all try in vain to teach adolescents to obey adults & never to revolt. But what we need to teach them is to express their disagreement without any hesitation & inhibition, but using proper language. In a given situation, if they are confused in choosing right path, they should be taught to seek guidance & never to act impulsively.
But, do parents really get a chance & if so, do they bother to inculcate the right spirit in their children; in a manner that adolescents would appreciate?
There are three major areas that are crucial to parent-teen relationship; connection, monitoring & psychological autonomy.
First, a sense of connection between a teenager & parents provides a backdrop against which all other interactions take place. If parent-adolescent connection is consistent, positive & characterised by warmth, kindness, love & stability, children are more likely to flourish socially. They are more likely to be self confident & co-operative in their relationships with others.
In addition to sense of connection between parents & adolescent, the monitoring process is crucial to successful parenting. In the context of warm, kind relationship, parental monitoring of teen activities & friend circle should come across as caring rather than intrusive.
It is important to spend quality & quantity time with teenagers to enhance connection & to get involved in recreational activities with them is a way for parents to get connected regularly in a pleasant setting. Spending leisure time together also gives parents a backup for the monitoring process.
Finally, parents need to encourage the development of psychological autonomy in their adolescents. Encouraging independent thinking and the expression of original ideas & beliefs, validating feelings and expressing unconditional love are the ways to nurture ‘psychological autonomy’. The opposite of this is psychological control which is characterised by changing the subject, making personal attacks, withdrawing love or inducing guilt to constrain intellectual, emotional or psychological expression by the adolescent that is incongruent with the parent’s way of thinking.
The combination of connection, monitoring & psychological autonomy may sound simple, but the simplicity of the directions can be frustrating to navigators when they are lost. Translating general ideas into specific behaviours & then into patterns of interaction can be a challenge; especially if one or both parties are already entrenched in less productive patterns of interaction. The task of establishing a warm, caring, positive relationship characterised by kindness with a teenager whose favourite phrases are ‘you just don’t understand’ and ‘leave me alone’, can be daunting. While it is true that one of the main developmental tasks of adolescence is to separate from parents’ image & that peer influence takes on greater & greater importance during these years, there is still no substitute for the parent-teen relationship.
Dr. Mrs Prajakta Kaduskar
Consultant in Adolescent Paediatrics
Dr. Ajay Kaduskar
Dr. Mrs. Prajakta A. Kaduskar