Teen Emotional Development:
The teen years are a time for realizing more about themselves and the relationships they have with others. Teens spread their wings and want more independence from Mom and Dad and look more at developing relationships with the opposite sex. They will spend more time with friends but also begin to enjoy spending time alone. Parents need to respect the privacy of their teens. Managing a lot of the new feelings require social skills your child has had little experience with so they are not perfect as they learn. Trying to articulate deeper self-expression and abstract ideas may lead to frustration and anger. This is not really directed at you personally so parents need to exercise a lot of patience.As teens begin to be able to think abstractly, they realize that they can observe the world through the eyes of others. Suddenly they become very self-conscious and can experience social anxiety. They can develop depression, anorexia or attempt to self-medicate using alcohol, drugs or sex. Their grades at school can suffer. Peer approval has shown to be highly satisfying to the teen brain, which may be why teens are more likely to take risks or act out when other teens are around. Physiologically it also takes more risk for the teen brain than an adult brain to get excited. Combined, these factors make the mid-teen years a decidedly risky time for your children. The parts of their brains that moderate risky behavior and control impulses will not develop until late teens.
As teens have grown in body size, their brains have also grown. The bigger the brain, the more the processing power. What seems baffling to parents is the juxtaposition of emotional or risky behavior by teens that over-powers their logical or decision-making skills. They’ll do something although they know it’s wrong. Teens do have the physiological ability to behave rationally like adults if they are given the experience and information how to progress that way.
By the time your child is in their mid to late teens, they can develop their own work habits. They are able to understand future consequences of current actions. They can articulate reasons for what and why they do things. They are just somewhere on the ridgeline between being ruled by emotion or reason.
What You Can Do
So what can you do? As we said earlier, know your child gives you a huge advantage in proper parenting that child. As teens are looking at themselves through a new lens, they also have a deeper capacity for caring and sharing, empathy and for developing more intimate relationships with you and others. Here’s some suggestions how to keep the communication channels open with your teen:
– Having dinner together around the dinner table is one of the most effective things you can do. You can have conversations about what’s going on with your kids and ask open ended questions. Sharing meals also encourages better food choices and healthier body image. Studies have shown that kids who eat with their parents have better grades, are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs, have suicidal thoughts or engage in sexual activity.
– Show interest in their school and extra-curricular activities. Encourage them to get involved in social clubs, theater, sports, music or art.
– Give them lots of positive feedback and compliments. Look for reasons to be positive.
– Do fun things together. Enjoy each other’s company. Show affection to your teen.
– Respect their opinions and [really] listen to what they have to say.
– Give them opportunities to make decisions and use their judgment. Be there for them if they need support or have questions.
– Help your kids understand the value of money by giving them spending money to budget at home and on the trip.
Teens are old enough to behave like adults on a plane. Reviewing good behaviors serves as a gentle reminder of things they should do and not do on the plane. They won’t like to hear it but say it anyway so expectations are clear. If your seat assignments are two by two, let the kids sit with each other while husband and wife sit together.
When they are first seated, have them wipe down their seat area with a Clorox-type sanitizing wipe including the arm rests, touch screen, remote control and window shade. Planes are loaded with germs. They should also be reminded proper etiquette for using the airplane toilet. It’s wise to remind them not to be actually seated on the airplane’s toilet when they flush!! They need to wash their hands with soap and wipe out the sink for the next person. They need to slip shoes on if they can or at least have their airplane socks on and be careful where they step.
Before you actually board the plane, have your teen organize their carry-on articles so they have at hand what they will actually want with them at their seat and not in the overhead compartment. I usually provide my kids with a small cloth stuff sack for their tablet, headphones, snack items, water bottle, book, sweater or whatever else. This minimizes the need to get up and open the overhead compartment too often which has spare change of clothes, toiletries and things you won’t need necessarily on the plane. If your teen can have a window seat, it’s a great opportunity to discuss what they see below …science, climate patterns, topographic features, local economies. Discuss geographic concepts such as latitude and longitude, time zones, and Great Circle routes. Reviewing the map feature on the entertainment console can be supportive. [See the Geography mini course!]
Teens should order their own meals and drinks. Let them address the flight attendant directly. If you need to order any special meals for them, do so at booking time or at least a couple of weeks prior to departure. Enter this information in the airline’s frequent flyer profile for your child. Be sure your teen has a bottle of water as dehydration is common with long haul flights. They should use a hand sanitizer before eating. Provide your teen with some healthy snacks for the flight. They may get the munchies in between meals or while watching a movie!
Teens are best occupied by the onboard entertainment options or by tablets such as an iPad, Amazon Fire or a good book, Kindle or paperback. If you bring tablets, be aware that the charge can run out. Maybe download a new game that they can’t use until departure. Bring a spare battery (see the Markeplace section) and be sure to charge your Kindle before departure. Kindles can go weeks with a single charge. Do encourage your tween to sleep on the plane if they can as it will help reduce jet lag and make them feel a lot better. Buy them a special neck pillow or they still might have their own special small blanket. It never hurts for Mom to pack a special surprise game or item (comic book? Teen Vogue?) Let them buy a magazine of their choosing at the airport before boarding.
About a week before your departure, maybe at the dinner table, have a discussion about how you expect them to behave. They will roll their eyes at you but at least you will have covered the topic. You could also get the info across in the form of a game: What do you do if …. The hotel lost your reservation? They lose their favorite sweater? You get separated while touring? Can they go to the bakery on their own? What are the symptoms of dehydration if you are going somewhere really hot in summer? How much water should they drink each day? Everyone will get cranky one day … what are the best ways to let the family know you need some down time without blowing up?
Some children adjust to change better than others. What are the limits for your child? If your child gets easily anxious about change, what is our strategy for keeping them informed about what’s going to happen so they relax and enjoy themselves?
One of the goals of the teen age years is separating from the family and establishing some autonomy. Even if they say otherwise, that does not mean a teen no longer needs parents. They do. And, it’s your job to balance their safety with their need to spread their wings.
Teens still need structure and are looking to their parents to provide those limits. The parent that decides to treat a 16 or 17 year old as an adult or positions themselves as a friend instead of a parent is behaving unfairly and setting them up for failure.
In the end, the two best things you can do to parent kids at this age are: 1) to listen to them and 2) to be a good role model. When difficult or challenging things happen, exhibit your best behavior as your teens are watching and learning from you as they work to define themselves.
Teens exercising their need for greater independence can drive you crazy sometimes. Let’s be honest about that. Back talk makes you want to strangle them. There is some good news in all that to report though. Kids that are pushing hard for personal independence at home are also doing that same exercise with their friends. What that means is that your teen is less likely to bow to peer pressure which is a good thing. They need to grow up to be the unique individuals they are. They need to stand up for themselves but they also need the structure and support from their parents while doing so.
If You Need to Discipline …
Here’s a list of good advice when you need to discipline a child of any age:
Be Firm: Consequences should be clearly stated and then adhered to when the inappropriate behavior occurs. Parental authority is not questioned.
Be Fair: The punishment should fit the crime. Harsh or extreme punishment is unnecessary. In the case of recurring behavior, consequences should be stated in advance so the child knows what to expect. Using a simple Time Out can be effective even for a tween when it is used consistently every time the behavior occurs. Escalating loss of privileges can be enforced. Better yet, use of reward for a period of time like part of a day or a whole day when the kids were terrific is highly recommended!
Be Friendly: Use a friendly but firm communication style when letting a child know they have behaved inappropriately and let them know they will receive the “agreed upon” consequence. Encourage them to try to remember what they should do instead to avoid future consequences. Work at “catching them being good” and praise them for appropriate behavior.
Negotiate issues in age-appropriate ways. If your tween doesn’t like peas, you might ask, “What vegetable would you like instead?” If they want to eat pizza every day and nothing else, what the heck? (Pick your battles.) It’s vacation. Make it clear it won’t carry over to home! Need something green every day! Then you order something and rave about it. Or enforce the “one bite rule” where they need to at least try something new if they want to have a dessert later. Laugh at the Yucky Foods section of Food & Dining for the country you are in. Is their food choice there?
Respond to criticism with a reasonable question. If your child says “I’m too tired to go out, ” tell them you are going out ..you are super excited to see all this cool stuff. Ask them to pick what time you should stop for a rest. “How would you manage this? What do you think? Hot chocolate at 11:00?”
Manage your own temper. If your child is driving you nuts, go into the other room and Take Five ( or Ten, or Fifteen!) before trying to talk. Avoid emotional responses.
Write down solutions. Get the family together and appoint a Recorder who makes a list of everyone’s ideas. Writing things down validates people’s ideas, makes them more included and outcomes more acceptable. Discuss the solutions openly but don’t allow criticism of anyone’s idea.
Let your child win sometimes. Pick your battles wisely and remember that changing your mind does not mean you are losing. You might say, “OK, I agree with you. But next time, let’s discuss this without the blow up, okay? That’s not fun for anyone. This was much better!”