Vienna Family Network member, mother and psychotherapist specialized in Family System Therapy, Elena Padurariu, shares her blog on navigating the teenage years with us this month.
The teenage years are associated with a variety of mental and physical challenges. If you’re living with an adolescent, you are already aware of the numerous changes going on in your child’s life and the effect that these changes have on you. As teen bodies and brains change, they’ll experience a new intensity of emotions that might be entirely new. When teens face painful emotions, they might find ways of overcoming these emotions through destructive behaviours, such as self-harm, aggression against family members, risky behaviours or abuse substance consumptions.
This experience might be particularly difficult for parents who themselves lack the skills of emotional self-control. It is hard to help someone with intense emotions when you cannot help yourself. This is also why, one of the most important factors is to look at your way of coping with intensive negative feelings, at how healthy or unhealthy are the patterns you have.
In the following lines, you’ll find insights about how to become a more effective parent in managing your teens’ strong emotions. The basic idea is to understand how behaviors are a result of thoughts and emotions, of one’s interpretation of a situation.
#Empathy and acceptance
Your teen, as he/she moves towards adulthood, has the challenge to develop his/her own identity. This means that they will need to separate from you. The way they are doing this is by sometimes acting more challenging and rebelling against you, and by wanting, at times, more distance from you. Your teen will test your limits, challenge your expectations and authority or even reject them as part of this process. The more you’ll struggle to impose your authority, the more resistance you’ll receive. My advice is to show patience, acceptance and respect towards your teen and do not take things too personally.
#Vulnerability and communication
Pay attention to the interactions between your vulnerability to stress and that of your teen. When at least one of you are aware of how vulnerable you are (due to stress at work/school, poor social contacts, body image problems), you can opt-out from answering to anger with anger. As I observed during my work with parents, managing one’s own vulnerabilities before getting into an escalation or even telling teens that we are vulnerable, will create a boundary to conflict and teach your teen to be aware and manage his/her vulnerabilities. Find a good time to talk to your teen about your thoughts and how you feel about situations you do not approve of. Try to find appropriate solution together by having a collaborative approach.
Children and teens are not so good at expressing emotions. They often feel them in their bodies. Helping a teen recognize body sensations and how to translate them into emotions, leads to a better connection between body and mind. Headaches, butterflies in the stomach, shoulder tension and/or feeling constantly tired, are some of the bodily signals of high emotions like anxiety or sadness. Do your best in helping teens identify and name a large number of emotions from negative – anxiety, frustration, boredom, rejection, disappointment, jealousy, insecurity, anger to positive – pride, joy, satisfaction, energetic, hope, love, appreciation. Naming an emotion is the first step in decreasing its intensity.
#Exploration and understanding
Often a parent will notice and judge only the negative behaviour their teen displays. Instead, you can explore together the root of negative behaviour.
Behaviours are often resulting from strong emotions; they are a way of releasing emotions or of escaping them. For example, skipping school can be a behaviour stemming from social anxiety or performance anxiety. Understanding the emotion, thought or situation that triggers that behaviour will help in exploring other healthy behaviours for your teen. For this, you need to look deeper than the behaviour to understand the real trigger for it.
#Connection and love
Don’t miss opportunities for positive connections. You, as a parent, still play an important role for your teen although he/she may show it in a more subtle way. Remember that your teen still likes to have your attention and care. All you need is to notice their clues and make time to connect. Family is still very important and offers them much-needed stability.
Navigating through emotional storms is never easy. Many unhealthy behaviours in teens and even in adults are a result of a lack of management of negative emotions and stress.
When you can help your teen find more positive ways of expressing themselves, through communication, creative or relaxing activities like music, you’ll be able to have more harmony in your family.
Elena Padurariu is a VFN member, mother and psychotherapist specialized in Family Systemic Therapy. With the wish to bring psychotherapy closer to people, she started to write a blog about topics inspired by her work as a therapist and her experiences as a mother (https://padurariu.at/blog/). Elena also organizes workshops on topics such as parenting, work-life balance, effective communication and self-help for mood disorders (anxiety and depression).