How to prepare yourself and your child for the stormy years of adolescence.
By Lori Cohen
Moody, independent, hairy… It’s confronting to see your children morph into nearly-adults, or the phase of their development termed ‘adolescence’. All cultures and societies acknowledge the transition from childhood to adulthood, but according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), putting a number to the phase isn’t ideal. That’s because the timing and speed of change differ in practically every child on the planet.
However, it begins at around age 10 and ends around age 21. Some defining changes help tell the story.
THE START OF ALL THINGS NEW
Puberty. It’s technically the first sign that a child is entering adolescence. But it’s only one part of the picture. ‘Adolescence is also a time to develop knowledge and skills, learn to manage emotions and relationships, and acquire attributes and abilities that will be important for enjoying the adolescent years and assuming adult roles,’ according to WHO.
THE NEURO-DEVELOPMENTAL CHANGES
Driven by hormones, a storm of neuronal developments takes place during the adolescent years too. They alter the part of the brain that’s responsible for pleasure seeking and reward processing, emotional responses and sleep regulation.
Hence, teens have earned the reputation for sleeping half the day away, mood swings and seeking instant gratification (shopping, gaming, alcohol… the list goes on). The pre-frontal cortex is also on fire. This part of the brain is responsible for executive functions such as decision making and impulse control. Yup, adolescents often make poor or risky decisions, but you can literally blame it on their brains.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL CHANGES
Fortunately, while the brain and body changes are happening, adolescents are also making substantial developmental leaps in their intellectual and emotional capacities. As they head into the later teens, reasoning skills and moral thinking start to win over the other impulses that rage within.
PREPARING FOR THE STORM
The natural tendency towards experimentation and risky behaviour can impact their health – now, and later in life. As a parent, you can arm your pre-teen with the knowledge to help them make better decisions. It goes beyond educating them about the risks of pregnancy and STIs that come with sexual activity. Alcohol abuse, for example, can affect their brain development and impair their memory for life. Too much screen time can trigger addictive behaviour. Gail Friend, Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner, and NLP Life Coach says that the most significant gift parents can give their children to cope with adolescence is to teach them how to ‘think’. And this goes right back to the toddler years (another rough patch) when you start
to implement discipline.
‘You don’t want to create a pattern where your child learns to listen to your instructions; rather teach them how to think about their behaviour. You want to set up this approach early on because as teenagers, they’re vulnerable if they’ve only learned the skills to listen to instructions.
Otherwise, when they hit adolescence, they start to listen to their friends rather than their parents,’ she says.
Other tactics to prepare you and your child, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry are:
• Provide a stable, safe and loving home environment
• Create an atmosphere of honesty, mutual trust and respect
• Create a culture of open communication at family mealtimes
• Allow age appropriate independence and assertiveness
• Develop a relationship that encourages your child to talk to you
• Teach responsibility for their belongings and yours
• Teach basic responsibility for household chores
• Teach the importance of accepting limits
• Teach the importance of thinking before acting