Ah, parenting. One minute, you’re thinking you’ve finally got it all figured out, as your happy-go-lucky children giggle and play their way through the beautiful life you’re created for them; the next moment your child is telling you (loudly) how unfair life is, how you’re the worst parent ever, and how all of his or her friends have it so much better than they do.
Who is this person? Was your sweetheart replaced with a look-alike? What is going on?
I’ll tell you what’s going on: Adolescence.
As children enter the stage of adolescence when their brains and bodies begin to transition from childhood to adulthood, the same parenting approach that worked for their younger years may prove ineffective. Parents need a different approach during this stage and, ideally, a giant heaping of expert advice.
I asked Jennie Marie Battistin, clinical psychologist and author of “Mindfulness for Teens in 10 Minutes a Day: Exercises to Feel Calm, Stay Focused, & Be Your Best Self,” for just that. Here’s what she said.
The Epoch Times: The manifestation of adolescence often takes parents by surprise. The emotional ups and downs early adolescents experience can seem uncharacteristic of their children. Can you give a brief overview of the onset of adolescence and the emotional and behavioral changes that are typical?
Jennie Marie Battistin: There are many physical, emotional, and behavioral changes typical during the teen years. Adolescents are seeking to develop their identity and gain independence.
Typical changes that emerge include decreased desire to spend time with family, increased need for sleep or reluctance to get up in the morning, acting embarrassed by parents, exaggerated responses towards peer rejection or comments, and experimenting with low-risk behaviors.
The Epoch Times: Emotions can be erratic and unpredictable during adolescence. What causes such fluctuations in emotion?
Ms. Battistin: Biology (body and hormone changes) is partially to blame for fluctuating mood and emotions in adolescents. Also, the brain is continuing to develop. The prefrontal cortex, the logic and reason center, is not yet fully developed. Thus the emotion brain tends to rule the teenager, which may cause them to respond to stress, parental limits, other demands, and disappointment with a more pronounced emotional reaction.
Teens tend to get stuck in black and white, or all good, all bad thinking. Have you heard a teen utter the words “You are ruining my life, you just don’t understand, you never let me have any freedom,” etc.? Social and psychological factors can also lead to some of the erratic emotions.
The Epoch Times: Parents may find their once well-behaved child testing his or her limits and displaying emotional outbursts. It can be difficult to know when to give an adolescent more space, a hug, or disciplinary consequences. What changes in discipline strategies do you recommend for parents of adolescents?
Ms. Battistin: Teens are no longer children, but not yet fully independent. A desire for independence and self-expression can lead to impulsive behaviors, exploring limits, making decisions without fully considering the consequences, and emotional highs and lows as they navigate their social world.
At times allowing for natural consequences rather than giving a punishment or lecture can be more impactful. A natural consequence might be school detention after being late to school multiple times. Creating a consequence that requires a behavior change is important. For example, “Until you can get your grades up to C you will need to stay home on weekends and study.”
More and more we are trying to teach adolescents to connect with their emotions. When a teen screams at a parent, I like to use a “time in” approach. Identify the emotion and have them take a break. Try saying, “It seems you are (label unpleasant emotion), and you may need some time to sort out your feelings, let’s take a walk or have a seat on the couch until you can speak respectfully to me.” A “time-in” approach helps a teen learn emotion regulation and tolerance for unpleasant emotions.
The Epoch Times: Children at this age seem to crave both independence and reassurance from their parents. How can parents best provide both?
Ms. Battistin: Giving teens options and allowing them to choose can help them feel an increased sense of independence. For example, “You can either stay home and finish your homework tonight so you can spend all day Saturday with your friends or you can go out tonight with friends and stay home Saturday to finish your homework.”
Providing some structure and routine to the week creates a framework that can be reassuring. For example, “When you get home you can have 30 minutes of game time, then work on your homework, eat dinner with the family, and if you finish your homework by 8 p.m., you can have another 30 minutes of game time.”
The Epoch Times: Self-confidence seems to be a struggle for many adolescents. Why is this and how can parents help their children feel more confident during this stage of life?
Ms. Battistin: There are a lot of changes in the teens years, and teens experience increased expectations from others. Adolescents can have challenges with knowing what they feel and how to cope with their feelings, which can affect self-confidence. Often teens get stuck in catastrophizing feelings with words such as “always” and “never.”
Giving adolescent praise and helping them identify their “wins” can help build confidence. Look for sparkling moments, such as “I appreciate how you helped with X,” “I like the way you took care of X,” or “I am proud of you for X.” Seek one thing every day to point to with your teen that positively reinforce “what’s good about me.”
The Epoch Times: How can parents discern when their adolescent’s emotional issues are out of the ordinary and something to be more concerned about?
Ms. Battistin: Severe and prolonged periods of changes to mood (emotions) and behaviors may signal a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Sometimes parents consider poor behavior, irritability or disrespect as “acting out.” If the symptoms seem to be increasing, lasting for long periods, there are significant changes to eating, sleeping, self-esteem, and withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed, consider seeking mental health evaluation.
The Epoch Times: What final words of encouragement can you offer parents entering into the stage of their children’s adolescence?
Ms. Battistin: Changing your mindset from “What happened to my sweet kid,” “I am dreading the teen years,” or “Ugh, I have a teenager” can positively impact your relationship with your teen. Being a mindful parent and accepting your changing teen can help ease the transition of childhood to adulthood.
I encourage parents proactively to arm their teen with a tool such as mindfulness. A 10-minute daily practice of mindfulness exercises can help decrease negative behaviors, decrease stress, decrease emotional outbursts, better navigate and accept unpleasant feelings, be less reactive to distressing moments, and increase connection with others.
Being mindfully present with teens and staying non-judgmental of their behaviors can increase your connection. Look for sparkling moments to connect with your teen, such as car rides or watching TV. You would be surprised how much a teen might share if you are mindfully present rather than anxiously inquisitive.