Attitudes to adolescence

When teens don't rebel is the time to start worrying

When the kids become teenagers, why do they change? Why don't they want to go out with us any more? When we teach them something, why don't they listen to us but believe every word their friends say?

          These are examples of parents' grievances. They are seeing their kids, who move up from primary to secondary school or who are in the process of puberty, changing.

          In many cases behavioural changes happen so quickly that their parents, who do not understand the psychology of teenagers, become uneasy. Then they take it for granted that their children are developing abnormal behaviours and interpret them in many different ways.

          Normally children start to develop their sense of independence in two phases as follows:

1.    Primary change

           This is at the age of about 2-3 years old when the children begin to do things themselves such as walking, running and are able to control handling things themselves. They are able to start going to the toilet independently.

           During this period they become less reliant and also distance themselves from parents. If sometimes they are not allowed to do something, they will express dissatisfaction by throwing their hands up and down and crying out loud.

           The parents may regard this as refractory but the fact is that they are being in the process of independence development, seeming resistant to their parents and wanting to do many things by themselves. This is normal child development.

2.    Secondary change

           This is when children are entering adolescence at the age of about 11-12 years. Children start to behave independently once again, having their own ideas and reasoning, doing what they want and not always believing everything their parents tell them.

           Now they want freedom and privacy, they do not want their parents to control them like before. This may make parents think badly of their children, especially when they tend to argue more as they get older and feel confident enough to do things by themselves and so on.

           Actually these changes are quite normal and parents need to understand and cope with this properly. Instead, parents might want to consider whether teenagers who do everything they are told are really normal. In some cases, there might be some hidden problematic issues to be addressed.

           For instance, some may not be able to think for themselves and that's because their parents always make decisions for them. Or in some cases, the children do think and have their own thoughts, yet dare not express them, fearing their parents will not pay attention to them or put them down.

           In these scenarios, children do not really develop their own independence.

           Kids who do express a different point of view, defend them, or disobey their parents, are showing a normal development of ideas and independence, meaning they will be better prepared to meet adulthood in the future.

           However many parents still hold ideas and expectations which do not match reality. Consequently these expectations can make them upset, irritated and angry, which can eventually cause damaging conflicts between parents and children.

           Teenagers also experience rapid emotional changes because they have to encounter new challenges and have to adjust to meet them. These include physical changes, harder studies, acceptance by their friends and peers and so on.

           To help you deal with teenagers better, it's necessary to look at three things to maintain a family bond between you and your children on a daily basis.

1. Build a good family relationship from the start using three principles: Fun, Support and Love.

          - Find some activities and have fun together. Learn to laugh at mistakes made by parents and the kids in order to create a relaxing atmosphere and also to help them focus less on serious issues.

           - Always support the kids even if they fail or make mistakes. Parents should not condemn or criticise but encourage them to have faith in their strengths. They need to convince their children that they are and will always be loved.

           - Even when they become teenagers, they still need love from their parents. Every kid needs a different kind of love. Some need touching, some need supportive words or others need a gift. These expressions of love will help them to express love, instead of keeping their feelings to themselves.

2. Build efficient communication skills by thinking, listening and speaking.

           - If you see or hear something said by your children that you do not like, avoid quick decisions or getting emotional. Think before speaking or acting because the children may have reasons for their actions.

           - When talking with teenagers, try and be cautious and not use words that reprimand or belittle them. You can start with expressing your feelings, for instance: "I'm sad you came home late because I was worried about your safety."

3. Create opportunities for the kids to learn to be themselves.

          - Hold meetings between family members on a regular basis in order that the kids have a chance to express their ideas. Parents should try to be open-minded and listen to them.

           - In case of problems, it is vital to analyse them together with the aim of finding the reasons behind them. Furthermore, it is also necessary to weigh the pros and cons of the solutions you choose.

           - Implement immediately what you agreed on and let the kids take a degree of responsibility for what happens so that they truly learn things.

           To successfully raise kids, showing love is not enough. Parents need to inspire confidence in their children and make them believe that they are worthy human beings. That's because it is hard for children to believe in themselves if the parents are not convinced yet in their abilities.

           If one day the kids do something wrong, it does not mean that they will be wrong for the rest of their lives. Parents should show tolerance and forgiveness. In the end this will lead to a high sense of pride in the fact that their children have grown up to be responsible, worthy adults.

BangkokPost, myfamily July 22-28,, 2010   
By Dr Penny Lorwatanapongsa is a psychiatrist at Manarom Hospital