How many of us have had to take specific training for our jobs? How many of us have to routinely complete CEUʻs (Continuing Education Units) for our current positions? How many of us donʻt think twice about paying for training and conventions that will help us advance in our careers? Now ask yourself when was the last time you bought a book or paid for a class that can help you be a better parent? I will wait for the crickets…. In actuality, we spend close to nothing on investing in understanding our teens better or in learning new strategies to develop a more conflict-free relationship with our children. We often forget that parenting is not only one of the most important jobs but it is also one of the hardest jobs we will have. Imagine if we invested as much time and effort in learning and honing our parenting skills as we do with our careers.
I want to bring up this point because parenting in today’s society is probably the most challenging time in recent history. We are navigating through a pandemic, economic disparity, political and racial tensions, and technological advances that our brains can not keep up with. Many of us may also be parenting away from our immediate family, therefore our village of support is small or non-existent. So what can we do to overcome some of these challenges?
Know you’re not alone:
Many parents of teens feel as though their struggles are unique to them. They feel embarrassed to share that their teen may have had trouble with drugs or with authority. We feel very uncomfortable to share our struggles and the fact that our teens act as they hate us. In actuality, you are not alone. It is more normal to have a rebellious teen in your home than not. Teens are developmentally trying to find their independence and are on a quest for autonomy and will seek it through some very challenging behaviors.
I am a pretty transparent person and I have never had a problem talking about my kid’s behavioral challenges even among strangers. I did this because I wanted to know if other parents were struggling and so we could compare strategies. It has been a blessing for me because I have come to the realization that ALL of us are struggling with our teens. We arenʻt perfect, and they arenʻt perfect, so of course, we are going to struggle a bit.
Understanding that your teenʻs brain is still developing until the age of 22-25 years old makes a big difference in seeing things differently. We can not grasp some of the illogical and irrational choices and behaviors they exhibit. If we understand that the prefrontal cortex is one of the last regions of the brain to fully develop, then we can understand why our teens act the way they do. The prefrontal cortexʻs functions include foreseeing and weighing possible consequences of behavior, balancing short-term rewards with long term goals, impulse control, delaying gratification, inhibiting inappropriate behavior, and initiating appropriate behavior. The prefrontal cortex also gives our teens the capacity to exercise “good judgment” when presented with difficult life situations. With an immature prefrontal cortex, even if teens understand that something is dangerous, they may still go ahead and engage in risky behavior.
They act like they donʻt need you but they need you more now than ever, just in a different way:
Although teens are actively seeking autonomy, they also need us to help guide them and to most importantly prepare them for the world outside their bubble. It is our responsibility to ensure they have the skillset and resources to navigate their adult life. At the most basic of levels, our primary goal in parenting adolescents is to teach them how to survive the world without us. They need to understand the world of natural consequences and the social norms that guide society. They need to understand they are responsible for their own decisions and the consequences that come from those decisions. They need to know how to care for themselves and those in their communities. They also need to know how to interact in society so that they can function at a level that is in alignment with their goals. We need to send them off with life skills and emotional intelligence that will enable them to successfully navigate the rough waters of the adult world. They most certainly do not have all the answers or the life experiences so that is where we fill in the gap and lead by example. This is the worst possible time to disengage, no matter how horrible they may act. They often struggle with asking for help since it goes against their whole quest for autonomy so itʻs important that we recognize when they need guidance and support.
There is help:
Seek out other parents that have teens and lean on each other for support. Take classes and workshops that can provide you with new insight and skills to help and support your teen. Know who your childʻs friends are and the parents of their friends so that you can help to build a supportive network. Pay closer attention to your teen’s mood swings and what triggers them and discuss with them what you see. Understand they are still learning and need reassurance and unconditional love just as they did when they were little. Formulate a safety plan including a relative or a trusted friend who your teen can run to when everyone needs a “cooling period”. Never be too embarrassed to reach out for help. There are plenty of mental health professionals with experience in working with teens and families that can help and facilitate better communication within your family. Just remember this: If you want to see changes in your teen’s behavior the first place to start is with yourself and understand how your daily communication and reaction to their behaviors play an important role in the overall conflicts that you may be experiencing. As parents, we have to be the change agents and be flexible enough to create an environment that our teens feel safe enough to talk to us but also are very clear as to what the boundaries and non-negotiables are in the family. Teens need a map in order to navigate through life and this can be a group effort where everyone feels heard and validated.
Knowing you are not alone, understanding brain development, continuing to be present, and seeking help are just a few strategies to make our homes more peaceful. If you would like to continue to invest in your parenting tool belt, Pua Mohala offers a parenting class called Old School + New School = Best School. In this class, we discuss these above strategies as well as connections to the book, The Four Agreements. We examine indigenous parenting styles and create a meld of tradition and modern approaches to parenting.
See our booking tab for more class information. We are offering a class on Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at 6:30 pm, as well as another class offering in February. Parenting is tough but we are always here to help.