Tools for Teens

Why teach your teen coping skills? The answer is because your teen will not effectively learn them otherwise. Your teen will imitate what he or she (note he also means she hereinafter) observes in his environment whether it is what you want him to learn or not.

Adolescence vs. Childhood vs. Adulthood

Biological, Cognitive, and Emotional development do not occur at the same rate. Biologically, an organism reaches adulthood with the arrival of reproductive age. Cognitive and Emotional development occur more slowly. This contradiction between developmental states makes parenting a teen difficult. A teen is a biological adult with continuously varying degrees of the cognitive, emotional, and dependency attributes of a child.

Treasure Your Teen

If you really treasure something, you want to spend time with it. If you have a favorite car, you like to drive it. If you have a sport that you treasure, you want to spend time playing or watching it. This is no secret. Everyone, including your child, knows it. Therefore, if you are not spending time with your child, it will be obvious to him that you do not treasure him. This will result in a variety of undesirable emotions, thoughts, and behaviors on the part of your child.

In contrast, treasuring your child by spending time with him affords you the opportunity to parent. Do you remember an adult in your life as a teen with whom you liked to talk? What did you like about this person? This was a person who attentively listened to you, respected you, and a person whom you trusted. Did this adult always share your same opinions? Did you heed this person’s advice even though you had a different opinion? Chances are that if you trusted that this person, you did.

The Parenting Challenge

When you have difficulty raising your teen(s), do not believe that you have somehow been cheated. If you expect that a normal life is easy, you will be disappointed. Raising a teen is difficult as living life is difficult. There may be times when you and your teen are on the same page, enjoy these. However, do not expect that your child will agree (or should agree) with you. You child does not and cannot share your point of view due to lack of life experience. It is OK if he disagrees. Agreement is not your goal. What you most strongly desire is for your teen to respect and obey you. This will keep him from harms way. When you expect to be challenged often and sometimes severely, then you will be pleasantly surprised when things actually come off without a hitch.

The ‘Everybody Hypothesis’

Do not fall for the assertions, “Everybody is going,” “Everybody has one,” “Everybody is wearing,” and “Everybody [insert verb (and object)]. You want to base your decision on statistically accurate information. You must test the ‘Everybody Hypothesis’. Have your child furnish you with a sample of twenty of his peers in the ‘Everybody’ population and the observations supporting his analysis supporting his conclusion. If necessary, talk with the parents these peers to obtain more information.

You Are Being Watched

Keep in mind that the way in which you handle an unpleasant situation with your teen is modeling (demonstrating through living) the appropriate behavior you want your child to learn. If you anger easily and frequently with your teen, your teen will anger easily and frequently in situations that frustrate him. If you are persevering, calm and look for the positive in the situation, your child will learn to do the same. Do you want your child to easily ‘fly off the handle’ or do you want him to reflect on the situation weighing possible options then act in a calm and deliberate manner.

If you desire the latter, I suggest you do the same at least most of the time. If you cannot do this, then learn how. It is better for your child to see you learning than being consistently a poor example. Please, remember that your child does not realize that raising a teen may be the most difficult thing that you have ever done. He thinks that it is easy to raise him and that you are overreacting to a minor problem if you become angry. He believes that his life is more difficult than you will ever imagine unless perhaps you have exhaustively listened to every aspect of his problem (if he chooses to explain it) and then only if you mostly agree with his conclusion. The way you deal with your teen is likely to be the same as you see when your adult child deals with your grandchildren. You will have a legacy; positive or negative, it is yours to build.

Fatherhood

It takes a parent to raise a child, and it takes a man to be a father. It is impossible for a woman to bear the total responsibility of child rearing alone. The effect of fatherless families on our society is mind-boggling; it is as much a tragedy to see a fatherless, or virtually fatherless child, as it is to see a motherless child. A child needs the support of both parents whether the parents are married to each other or divorced. Neither the schools, nor the police, nor the church, nor the community, nor a child’s good friends can make up for what a child does not gain in the home.

The Antonyms: Parenting and Friendship

Do not expect to be your teen’s friend. A good friend is a peer. Parenting means being a parent. In many instances, being a good friend to your child may mean the same as being a bad parent.

Be a ‘Thriver’

Talk to other parents. Collaborate with your teen’s friend’s parents. Talk to your own parents. Construct your support system to help yourself maintain a positive attitude during periods when your composure is challenged. Be a ‘Thriver’ – not merely a ‘Survivor’. Take a proactive approach.

Getting There

So where do we go from here? You want to be a positive model for your adolescent but sometimes you are challenged to a degree that you find unbearable. Sometimes you react in a manner you find unacceptable. The tools useful in helping your teen (and yourself) may be divided into five different areas, Physical Modalities, Behavioral Techniques, Mental Mechanisms, Environmental Manipulations, and Relationship Management

Physical Modalities

Physical modalities are ways to deal with stressful situations through the use of the body. By controlling the body, the attitude can be affected. Physical exercise is one way for changing your teen’s attitude. There are numerous ways to accomplish this. For example, going for a swim or riding a bicycle can improve one’s outlook on a problem and significantly reduce the negative experience of stress. Hitting a punching bag is a way of releasing anger in a socially acceptable manner. There are almost as many ways to relieve stress through exercise as there are ways to exercise.

Yoga is a mechanism of stretching and posturing in a specific proscribed manner usually accompanied with suggestions made by the instructor. Progressive muscular relaxation is a method of tensing body parts and noticing the difference between tension and relaxation and concentrating on having the body’s muscles relax though concentrating on one muscular area at a time until the whole body is relaxed. During periods of stress, the respirations may become more shallow and irregular. Tension may be reduced by concentrating on deliberate, regular, deep, and slow inspiration and exhalation. Another modality, biofeedback, which is accomplished through measuring various bodily functions, can be beneficial.

Behavioral Techniques

Your teen can reduce stress by changing his behaviors. If time is managed effectively, rushing and unpleasant surprises can be minimized. A list is helpful in keeping on task. It is possible that priorities need to be re-evaluated. Taking breaks is important. Five or ten minute breaks every hour or so when studying helps to relieve tension. Information overload can tax the mind and result in headache, neck ache, etc. If uncertainty is causing stress as it often does, finding the answers to your questions is the solution. If you know that your teen is going to be placed in a seemingly untenable circumstance, he can rehearse his responses.

Make a ‘Stress Diary’ and analyze it. Many people miss the fun in life simply because they do not plan to do anything that is fun. Amounts of work and diversionary activities should be balanced to some degree. Consider having a massage, watching TV or reading for pleasure. Reading self-help books may also help to work through some particularly difficult situations. Talk to others; get a fresh opinion or confirmation. Encourage your teen to talk to you, a grandparent, or mentor. Having true friends helps to relieve stress; cultivate friendships, and helps your teen to make friends. Helping people who are less are in need helps to focus the perspective on how fortunate the helper is. Spending time as a family leads to the strengthening of family culture and provides stability and structure in a chaotic world.

Mental Mechanisms

Using your cognitive abilities to change the internal emotional climate is a popular and effective way of coping. Through rational thinking, it is possible to realistically assess the likelihood that a particularly negative consequence will occur. This will keep the issue in perspective. Reassess priorities. Positively reframe the situation. By substituting affirmations and avoiding negative self-talk, it is likely that the outlook will improve and tension will be minimized.

It is equally important for your teen is for you to give positive affirmations of his talents, accomplishments, and character. Imagining oneself in a pleasant location or successfully completing a task is helpful in enhancing performance while diminishing stress. Self Hypnosis and autosuggestion can also be of benefit. There is an abundance of literature on these subjects. Contemplative prayer, transcendental meditation, and Zen meditation produce relaxation and a fresh perspective.

Environmental Manipulations

Stress can be reduced by changing interaction with the physical universe. Eating regularly, timely and appropriately can reduce tension. Getting the proper amount of sleep should not be ignored. What a person smells, sees, hears, and touches affects the internal environment of the individual. For example, it is stressful to smell an unpleasant odor. Air quality is important. The tidiness of a room, the décor, and the lighting level have effects on emotions. The qualities of the light as well as the intensity are important – too bright can be as straining as too dim. Noise can be distracting and can produce tension.

Some teens study better and retain more with music; with others, the reverse is true. Consider that listening to music with headphones may be preferable to listening to an argument. The qualities of the furniture combined with ergonomics can lessen stress. The temperature should be appropriate for the situation. While ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit may be an appropriate air temperature for an outing at the beach, it is not conducive to sleeping comfortably at night.

Relationship Management

The way your teen relates to others influences the way others relate to him. Be positive. If you are positive in your relationships with others, this is what your child will learn from you. Project a positive image through words and posture. If your teen projects a positive image, others will relate to him in a positive manner. You must be assertive with your teen. Disagreements are not assaults on you as a person. Insist that your teen relate to you in a respectful manner.

When your teen starts to feel more anger than he can handle, suggest taking a break and pursuing the discussion at a later time. Give compliments when they are warranted. Make people glad to have interacted with you. Surround yourself with people who support your personal goals. Involve your teen in groups that will be supportive of his goals in life.