PARENTING THE ADOLESCENT

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PARENTING THE ADOLESCENT

Topic |  
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psyche-thumbby Kit Nemenzo Balane

I got invited to talk on parenting the teenager at the University of Bohol High School Department yesterday. It is always a joy to share with fellow parents a topic that I feel very strongly about.

To parent a teenager is a challenge and many of us are not prepared for such a job. Although we were all teenagers once and went through the roller coaster life of an adolescent, it is entirely different when we are faced with the responsibility of guiding and nurturing one who grows up especially in the era of both parents working, the internet, and mobile phones.

Indeed, media portrayals of adolescents often seem to emphasize the problems that can be part of adolescence. Gang violence, school shootings, alcohol-related accidents, drug abuse, teen pregnancies, and suicides are all too frequently reflected in newspaper headlines and movie plots.

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Even in the professional literature, adolescence is frequently portrayed as a negative stage of life, a period of “storm and stress to be survived or endured.” But many still believe that despite this general view of adolescence, almost all teenagers can “get back on track with the right kind of guidance and attention.

But to be effective guides, we need to have a clear view of what is actually happening during this stage and adopt ways and means that will allow us parents to be in a better position to influence our teenagers.

So, what do we need to know about adolescence? First, you have puberty. At around the age of 9-13, boys and girls experience growth spurt and sexual maturation. And with this comes all the other changes in all areas of an adolescent’s life.

The changes in how adolescents think, reason, and understand can be even more dramatic than their obvious physical changes. From the concrete, black-and-white thinkers they appear to be one day, rather suddenly it seems, adolescents become able to think abstractly and in shades of gray.

And we find them argumentative now. And sometimes they can be frustrating to adults because their logic often go off tangents and they argue for the sake of arguing. They also jump to conclusions. And most of the time, they are self-centered, constantly find fault in adults’ position, and they can be overly dramatic too.

But all of these come with the territory. With their new found ability to think, they find opportunities to exercise their reasoning, take risk, and criticize others’ views, not actually to put a front of bravado but just to experience the exhilaration of experimenting with their newfound thinking skills.

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Adolescents’ cognitive development, in part, lays the groundwork for moral reasoning, honesty, and prosocial behaviors such as helping, volunteerism, or caring for others.  Adults can help facilitate moral development in adolescents by modeling altruistic and caring behavior toward others and by helping youth take the perspective of others in conversations.

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Emotional development during adolescence involves establishing a realistic and coherent sense of identity in the context of relating to others and learning to cope with stress and manage emotions. Identity refers to more than just how adolescents see themselves right now. It also includes what has been termed the “possible self”, what individuals might become and who they would like to become.

The social development of adolescents is best considered in the contexts in which it occurs; that is, relating to peers, family, school, work, and community.

All of the ways adolescents develop—cognitively, physically, socially, emotionally—prepare them to experiment with new behaviors as they transition from childhood to adulthood. This experimentation in turn helps them to fine-tune their development in these other realms.

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Risk taking in adolescence is an important way that adolescents shape their identities, try out their new decision-making skills, and develop realistic assessments of themselves, other people, and the world. Such exploratory behaviors are natural in adolescence, and teens need room to experiment and to experience the results of their own decision making in many different situations.

However, young people sometimes overestimate their capacities to handle new situations, and these behaviors can pose real threats to their health. To win the approval of peers or to avoid peer rejection, adolescents will sometimes take risks even they themselves judge to be “too risky”.

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Here the guidance and nurturance of adults are a necessity. But we will leave that for next week. Suffice it for now that your teenager is at a point in his life where he undergoes changes that are exhilarating, scary, confusing, and are life changing which adults need to grasp and understand. Email me at kitbalane@boholchild.com.

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