So we’ve gone over the neurological, psychological, and social changes that characterize adolescence in Part 1 of this 2 part article, so now it’s time to approach the question: ‘What do I do about it?’
A step-by-step guide isn’t appropriate, as each family relationship is going to vary greatly, and require a tailored approach.
That said, there are a few ideas and principles you can learn that will prove tremendously helpful. Understand these concepts, and you’ll be far better equipped to guide your child into a healthy adult while also maintaining a your relationship with them.
It’s All About ATTACHMENT
Attachment, as we’re going to use it here, means ‘the fundamental bond between parent and child’.
If an infant or child is under stress, it uses a combination of behaviours (yelling, crying, hiding behind mom’s leg, etc.) to get help from it’s from parents. These are behaviours it has learned will bring about actions from parents that will protect it from harm, stress, and anxiety.
When children arent under stress, they don’t feel the need to be quite so close to their parents. Under these conditions, they will explore and attempt to get to know their environment. Of course, eventually they will make mistakes and get hurt; immediatley seeking out that which they can rely on to make things better, their parents!
All parents have different approaches to how they help their children in these situations, approaches that are well known to kids by adolescence. A child’s repeated experiences with their parent’s style to parenting produces strategies they inevitably use to seek out the responses they want, and avoid the ones they don’t.
Insecure Attachment, Ill-Behaved Teen
Adolescents explore a much broader environment than the ones infants do, but the way they do it is much the same. Infants can hurt themselves the first time they experiment with power outlets just the same as adolescents can when they experiment with drugs.
When they do end up making mistakes, what can they expect from their parents?
When a child is hurt by electrical burns, they are coddled and nursed back to calm and health.
When they are hurt by irresponsible drug use, sometimes they are punished by their parents, their exploration met with rejection and anger. These children learn to think twice about approaching their parents when distressed in the future because they fear rejection and punishment.
These children have no other choice but to find other avenues to bring them back to a mental state of comfort. This helps explain why studies show that insecurely-attached adolescents are more likely to engage in excessive drinking, drug use, and risky sexual behavior. Teens develop the mechanisms with which they deal with stress and anxiety during this age, which is why so many addicts can trace the beginnings of their addiction back to the habits they developed during adolescent years.
Secure Attachment, Stable Teens
When children can trust their parents as a ‘safe haven’ from which they can always return from their exploration of the world and their environment, we see a distinctive difference in the their development into adults.
Parents that can react to an adolescents mistakes and choices in a way that helps them build the capacity to negotiate conflict themselves not only have a far stronger relationship with their children; but build the critical competencies required to live a stable adult life.
“Adolescents who feel understood by their parents and trust their commitment to the relationship, even in the face of conflict, confidently move forward toward adulthood.”(reference here)
Building Secure Attachment
So how do you build a secure attachment with your adolescent?
One piece of advice is to think less about changing how your adolescent deals with the world, and more about changing how you react to your adolescent!
When your child does things that you do not agree with, how do you respond?
Do you attempt to provide them ‘directives’, or instructions on how to act?
Or do you provide them perspective on different ways to think about their actions?
Orders work on young children, but as adolescents grow, so too does their independence. Determining their actions doesn’t respect their ability to make their own decisions, and therefore does not foster a sense in your child that you understand them, or that you trust them to make the right decision!
If you’re having trouble relating to your adolescent, blog articles like this one can be helpful, but don’t address the unique nature of your parental relationship.
To find out how you can adjust your parental approach to best meet the your needs and that of the adolescents in your life, get in touch with Ottawa Youth Counselling.