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While parenting pre-teens and teenagers can bring a wide range of emotions on both sides, a mental health professional shares her tips to bring unity rather than dissension.
Terry Warburton is the Clinical Director of Recovery of Hope Counselling Centre in Winnipeg.
"Many parents reach out when they have children who are entering their early teen years. This is often a time when parents notice some changes in the behaviour of their children, including more resistance or push back, or more “attitude” at a new level. Parents become alarmed about this. They are sometimes concerned that their teens are pulling away from them, spending more time with their friends or in their room, not opening up to them as much, or not at all."
Warburton shares that there are good explanations for why this starts happening and ways parents can support their teenagers.
"I remember when my oldest daughter was 12 years old and I felt her getting pulled away to her peers. What I now know is that one of the developmental tasks of an adolescent is to push back from parents in order to become their own person. But as parents, we need to remember that they still need us. Our teens might appear to be mature, sophisticated and confident, but we need to remember that they are still emotionally immature."
She says people can support their teens by giving them room to resist and challenge ideas and values in a way that they know that we are still there for them.
"Their emotional system is growing and maturing during the teen years and so there are very good reasons for intense, irrational feelings. Feelings can quickly become very overwhelming for them. One of the best things that we can do is work very hard at not taking the emotions and words of our teens personally but understand that they are probably coming from an overwhelmed emotional system."
If teenagers are expressing their feelings, it actually isn't a problem, according to Warburton.
"Everybody has feelings and we need to be able to express our feelings while not hurting ourselves or someone else. With teens and children, it is important to come alongside how they are feeling, but we don’t have to condone the behaviour. When emotions are intense, that is not the moment to be trying to teach a lesson."
Building trust through a relationship is the best way to connect with teenagers.
"As we know, there comes a point when we can no longer control what they do. We cannot physically restrain and hold them and control who they go out with and what they do. We can’t keep them from doing drugs or doing other things that worry us. What we need at that point is the type of relationship that provides us with influence."
Who takes care of that relationship between parent and child is up to the parent, Warburton shares.
"We need to do our part so that we have an influence on our children so that they care what we think, and they are open to our opinions. But in that process, we also have to be ready for them to disagree and have their own ideas and not feel threatened by that."
The wide range of changes that happen during the teenage years are good and part of growing up into adulthood. It is not something that parents have to fear, according to the Director.
"When they have secure relationships with the adults in their lives, they are free to become their own person. It can be fascinating to be in the kind of relationship with our teens where they can ask their questions, express their opinions, and experiment with who they are and who they want to be. If we can see this as part of their developmental journey and not feel threatened by it, it is going to help us to support our kids."
For parents who are struggling with a relationship with their pre-teens and teenagers, Warburton suggests reaching out for help. Whether that is from other family members who have raised teenagers or for counselling.