Tweens & teens


This year be kind to parents

By Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.

If you were to write a list of New Year's resolutions for your teen, they might include: 1) Rent a bulldozer and dig out your room; 2) At least once a month, try to eat something from any food group other than the Grease Group, and 3) If you don't have anything mature or unsarcastic to say, please don't say anything at all.

The physical, emotional and mental changes that an adolescent experiences during her teen years are greater than at any other time of her life. This personal reorganization feels like an internal turmoil to the teen and appears just as chaotic to parents. As they unconsciously attempt to control the tensions created by hormonal flares, teens may act moody, removed, anxious and unpredictable. Their bodies are changing without their control into forms that they may or may not like.

An increased sex drive causes simultaneous embarrassment, pleasure, frustration and confusion. They appear withdrawn and overly strict one day, then openly aggressive or grandiose the next. Teens experience--though they may not recognize it--a feeling of loneliness and loss as they shed their childhood selves. They have a desire to separate from their parents, which they compensate for by forming stronger peer attachments.

Adolescence is an obviously tenuous and unstable time, but when managed, it can also be an exciting time of growth and development. To help your teen handle life within the family, let them know that you understand some of the angst behind the attitude, and suggest the following New Year's resolutions. (Or, if you aren't on speaking terms this week, just stick the list on the refrigerator door.)

• Try to keep things in perspective. Yes, your parents are driving you crazy with their constant questions, reminders and requests. "Where are you going? Who's going to be there? Don't forget to do your homework, clean up your pop cans, feed the dog!" They treat you like a child, but expect you to work like an adult. As irritating as it may feel, help yourself to manage it by seeing the bigger picture. Remember, this is only a phase. You will not have to live under their roof forever. Very soon you will be out on your own and able to make your own choices. And second, remember that while you may not like some of the things they do, underneath all of the nagging, they love you tremendously, and vice versa.

• Find ways to manage your emotions. You may have no clue how to do this at first, but be aware it is possible. Understand that because of the massive changes you are experiencing during this time of your life, it is normal for you to feel "all over the place" emotionally. You may feel ecstatic one minute and depressed the next. You may feel happy about growing up and scared at the same time. You may feel confused about things you used to be sure of, or about everything.

Realize that while it is normal and OK to feel this way, it is not OK to let those feelings out savagely on your parents or other family members. Screaming or swearing, criticizing or being rude are not signs of maturity and will not get you more privileges or respect. When you need to let it all out, do it in a better way. Shoot hoops, put on your headphones, call a friend, go to the gym, write in a journal, walk the mall.

• Find ways to explore life and yourself safely. This can be a fabulous time in your life as the world opens before you, offering anything you can dream of and are willing to try or to work for.

However, this does not give you license to leave your brain at home. Act like the adult you want to be and find ways to enjoy life's adventures without acting carelessly. Take advantage of the freedom of being able to drive a car, but keep your seat belt buckled and obey the law. Enjoy the music, noise and people of a late night party, but stay away from substances that can kill you.

In short, push life to the limit--within limits. Remember the differences between right and wrong, safe and stupid. Otherwise, you will lose--your license, your freedom and your future.

• Be gentle with yourself and your family as you grow away from them. Your job right now essentially is to break away from your family. Your parents' job is to keep you safe while you do that. This is a difficult task on both sides, and impossible to achieve without some conflicts and bumps in the road. It is normal for both of you to have mixed emotions about the whole idea, and this will result in some pushing and pulling from both ends.

Your relationship is changing: You must learn how to be an adult with parents, and your parents must learn how to relate to you as an adult child. Since these roles are new to everyone, you will go through some trial and error. Recognize this and allow it.

Don't be too hard on yourself or your family as you bumble through this new experience together. You will not do it perfectly, but if you are flexible and realistic you will reach your goal.

Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 19 and 23.

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