Understanding My Teenager

Emotional Issues

Teens are suspended somewhere between childhood and adulthood.  Powerful influences such as media, friends and culture send your teen messages about how to be in the world. To deal with this precarious time effectively, it’s important to remember that teens have two primary goals during this life phase:

Independence & Responsibility:

This is a tough time for parents also as their roles and needs change as their child becomes a young adult and takes on more and more responsibilities.  It is a positive sign when teens begin making their own decisions – it is a sign of independence, they’re learning how to make choices and run their lives. Independence and responsibility go hand-in-hand.  An independent teen without a sense of responsibility is an accident waiting to happen.  But an independent teen who’s burdened with responsibilities but who has no opportunity to make decisions will probably enter adulthood feeling resentful and victimized.  In both cases, the teen will be ill equipped to make intelligent decisions.

This becomes a balancing act for both parents and teens:  parents need to decrease control over teens and teens need to increase the amount of responsibility they take for themselves.  Parents can provide guidance by expressing their own opinions and values and teens can make their own decisions, within limits, as long as they are will to accept the consequences. There is a connection between using control and getting caught up in a struggle for power. Learning how to provide guidance and discipline while allowing your teen the freedom to explore and express him or herself is crucial for successfully parenting teens.

Seeking Significance & a Sense of Belonging:

Teens are trying to create an identity – who they are and what gives meaning to their lives while searching for ways to be important and accepted by their peers.  Seeking significance beyond home and family is necessary step toward maturing into adulthood.  Seeking significance can be achieved positively and negatively – often times with some combination of the two that will give the teen a sense of belonging.  Parents need to understand and respect that during this time, teens shift their focus from their families to their peers.  It can be frustrating to watch your teen embrace other people’s values, but it’s typical for teens to ‘try on’ ways of being as they search for an identity, a place to fit in.  Unless a teen’s action is harmful to self or others, a parent’s job is to listen, observe, increase empathy and allow his or her teen to create an identity that is separate and unique.