Dear Parents, Your Teen Will Return to Normal

Growth Comes With Challenges

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Many of us go through periods of doubting ourselves, feeling insecure about who we are, and unsure about our place and value in our world. Developmentally, it is typical for pre-teens and teenagers to go through this period of self-questioning. It can be ‘normal’ for them to feel lost, like a ship adrift at sea.

Feeling lost may lead to feelings of loneliness, nervousness, frustration, and irritability.

Feeling lost may lead to testing of prior knowledge, pushing of established boundaries, lashing out at others (especially loved ones), and thinking nobody understands the pain they are going through.

Many of them may feel like they no longer know who they are and what they are good at. Many of them begin to question their lives – consciously or unconsciously.

SELF DOUBT IS NOT A BAD THING TO EXPERIENCE AS IT MAY BE A CATALYST FOR GROWTH.

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Parents and supportive adults can find this period a confusing and frustrating one as well. Nothing they do for the adolescent is right. Everything they do or say is wrong. They want to help but help is rejected. At the same time, they are told they never help. “My teen wants all the freedom but none of the responsibility.”

"Self-awareness is our capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions, and our habits and tendencies." – Stephen Covey

It may feel like a lose-lose situation sometimes. Adolescents are the most insightful, selfless, and rational creatures, said no one ever.

Be on Your Teen’s Team

What parents and supportive adults can begin to do are the following:

  1. Determine that the teen is safe – are they at risk of suicide, deliberate self-harm, assault, addiction, criminal activities, or perpetrating violence against others? (If yes, please consult your GP or psychologist immediately. If no, proceed to 2.)
  2. Are their levels of anger, anxiety, and moodiness adversely impacting on their overall functioning such as, academic performance, relationships, appetite, sleep? Are they no longer engaging in activities/interests that make them smile? Are they no longer engaged in their world? In addition to you, their trusted adult, are they also rebelling against adults outside the family? (If yes, please consult your GP or psychologist immediately. If no, proceed to 3.)
  3. Once we have determined that (a) they are not at risk and (b) that their general functioning is not significantly and adversely affected, we may then ask this question: Have I, as their parent/supportive adult, taught them good values and good practices in the past X years, despite them not actively demonstrating what they have learned? Have I planted seeds on what constitutes being a decent human being, a productive member of society?
  4. Then, ask yourself this: Will me trying to actively and firmly change/guide/teach/instruct/manage/control my teenager at this point result in them welcoming it or will it result in them rebelling even further? Will they respond with “Why, thank you dear Mother for your lessons. I shall implement your recommendations without hesitation and question” or do you instead hear “YOU ARE THE WORST MUM EVERRRRRRRR!”?
  5. Lastly, ask yourself: Would it serve my teenager to be provided the safe and (somewhat) un-judgmental space to question, to push, to test, to rage, to experience and process, and ultimately, to decide for themselves what is best for them – in the next few years? Would it be beneficial to allow them the time and space to experience a level of emotional discomfort, so that they may enter adulthood with a clearer idea of who they are, what they would like from life, and how they may contribute to society?

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In most cases, for most human beings, the teenage years is a temporary developmental period. In plain English, it does not last forever. If it helps, tell yourself that an alien is living in your teenager’s brain and after a few years, the alien will move out. Until then, breathe through your nose, monitor their safety, give them space to question, validate instead of lecture, and remind yourself that your sweet child will return to “normal” soon.

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Guest post by Chiu Lau, Principal Psychologist at Possibilities Psychological Services an award-winning, multidisciplinary clinic for children, adolescents, adults, and their families.