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Seven mistakes that stop you from connecting with your teenager

Adolescence is undoubtedly the most challenging era of parenting. Here are some of the ways you might be holding back your relationship with your teen without realizing it

Adolescence can be a turbulent period.Mònica Torres

It is so difficult at times to understand our teenage children. Their outbursts, risky behavior and apathy leave us bewildered, and their lack of commitment, rebelliousness and need to constantly test boundaries make us angry and hurt. We want to support them but when every conversation has the potential to turn into an argument, how do we respond? The first step is to accept they have grown up without us even realizing it, while helping them forge their own path away from the parental nest.

During my own adolescence, I felt that very few people understood me or could deal with all the emotions that I had running through me. I felt very insecure and vulnerable, and it was only with my own peer group that I felt the freedom to be who I really was. With my friends, I could express what bothered me and share all my doubts and fears.

Those were turbulent years, when I needed time to learn to master my frustration and to identify and manage my own emotions. That said, my parents were always by my side, offering me their unconditional help and supporting me to the best of their ability.

Adolescence is a very challenging stage for parents. It’s a convulsive period that often disconcerts us, and demands from us the very best version of ourselves. We may feel cut out of our children’s lives, and out of sync with their feelings. That causes feelings of guilt and helplessness, and fills us with doubt.

Now that I am a mother of two teenagers myself, I try to understand why my children’s moods oscillate in the extreme, and why they are irritable, sad or seemingly unavailable for no apparent reason. I try to join them on the carousel of emotions and moods they live through, and tap into the intensity of their feelings and the difficulty they have in reading what happens around them.

Our teenage children need us to accompany them through this important transformation with the utmost calm, confidence and empathy. They need us to know that we understand how hard it is to grow up in a fast-paced and ever-changing society. That we will show them how to control their impulses and their often unbalanced or unpredictable behaviors. That we will help them to cope with the many physical, psychological, social and emotional changes they are going through, and decipher the emotional chaos that causes them so much pain. We must reach out to offer a hand when they fall down, and give them the time they need to learn.

What mistakes prevent us from connecting with our teenagers?

1. Expecting them to be able to maintain control of their impulses and emotions at all times. If there is one thing that characterizes adolescence, it is the difficulty our children have in regulating what they feel. They need us to help them identify their feelings and develop strategies to cope with them.

2. Believing they no longer need us by their side. Our children still need parents and guardians to be present and available, to show interest in what happens to them, to feel that we are with them and won’t disappear when they need us, just as they did when they were little.

3. Not respecting their space or privacy. Respect is earned by respecting others! We have to give them time and trust that they will learn to do things properly. Those hours spent alone in their room are essential for them to find the peace and quiet they need.

4. Wanting them to think or act the way we expect. Adolescence is when children begin to develop their own independent spirit, to make their own decisions and assume the consequences of their actions. We must maximize their autonomy and accept that they may act differently to us or desire things that we would never want. It is essential that they feel that we love them as they are.

5. Failing to understand their need for independence and freedom. Our teenagers need to become individuals and experiment with new experiences. This will allow them to create their own vision of the world around them. The neurological changes that teenagers undergo push them to assert themselves as autonomous and different from us. This is fundamental to their development.

6. Assuming that the best way for them to learn is to punish them when they do something wrong. Punishments are not learning experiences and only damage the bonds between us. Teenagers need to have clear rules and limits agreed upon by the family as a whole. This will help them to take on and keep commitments and understand the consequences of their decisions.

7. Believing that they no longer need our affection like they did when they were little. Even though they are now so grown up, they still need our hugs and kisses and our words of encouragement every day. These signs of affection will comfort them and give them a sense of security. This sense of closeness and mutual understanding will play a key role in their growth and self-esteem.

Karen Savage, the author of The Good Stepmother: A Survival Guide, wrote: “adolescence is perhaps nature’s way of preparing parents to welcome the empty nest.” Let’s support our teenagers with tenderness and unconditional love as they begin their own independent lives.

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