Your Teen Is Changing! What Can You Do About It?

Michelangelo said that when he set out to sculpt a statue from a formless block of marble, he sought only to remove the excess marble from the statue that already existed inside the block. This is what Aristotle called accidental change.  Aristotle believed that when change occured, something new came to be, something old passed away, and something stayed the same throughout.

While we constantly watch our children change, the teen years are some of the most pronounced. Your teen will go through pubertal changes, as well as changes in brain structure, cognitive capabilities, and sexual interest.  They will also experience changes in the roles they assume in their family, community, and school.  Outside of their own development, teens must adjust to the changing world around them. For example, teens have experienced the rapid growth in technology, changing views in politics, and emerging styles in music and clothing.

Whether we are talking about normal development or changes in the world around us, some will be easier than others. People often respond to change with phrases like, “Come what may”, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, and “What we resist persists.”  When people really don’t want to deal with change, they often look for proof to justify that it isn’t really happening or necessary.

One thing to consider is how Aristotle’s description of change fits your teen. Try taking a day or two to live in wonder of who your teen really is right now.  Have a good look at what has emerged, passed away, or  been the same for as long as you can remember. This can happen in a variety of areas such as personality traits, tastes in food, interests, styles, and levels independence. Why do this? Because, change happens so quickly we can miss it if we don’t pay attention.

Another thing to consider is how you deal with your teen changing. Do you avoid it or embrace it? Do you prepare for it or deal with it as it comes?  Do you accept it or wish things would just stay the same.  It is important to consider how you deal with change because your response can actually have an impact on your teen’s experience of him/herself.  For example, let’s say your teen’s interest switches from playing football to guitar. Embracing this change may open up opportunities for your teen to feel excited, proud, and adventurous. However, responding with criticism may generate feelings of hesitation, sadness, and guilt.

Finally, consider that you can have an impact on how your child changes by what you expose them to, and how you embrace what they choose to explore.  Teens often take your openness and interest in them as a pure expression of love. One time, I heard a teen tell his mom, “It means so much to me that you are open to me trying on different nutritional diets. It means even more that you will do them with me. It says that you care about what matters to me and I love you for it.”

While change looks different for every teen, it is inevitable.  Regardless of how you feel about it, change helps to shape the adult your teen becomes.  Challenge yourself to be a positive contribution and enjoy it along the way.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

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Goodness of Fit: Giving Up Being Right Doesn’t Make You Wrong

Sam bursts through the door after school, throws his book bag on the ground, and heads toward his room.  Mom is in the kitchen making a cup of tea when she hears Sam get home.  She hollers, “Hey kid….how was school? What is your plan for tonight?” Sam says, “I don’t know” while heading up the stairs.  Clearly Sam was upset about something.  Mom wonders…what should I do? Do I try to talk to him, wait for him to come to me, or just let it go for now.  As she stirs the honey in her tea,  her thoughts drift to how her day had gone. She had actually had a pretty rough day herself.  In fact, things at work had been going down hill for about a month. She feels emotionally exhausted, but knows that she needs to reach out to her son.

Mom begins to walk upstairs. How many different ways could this conversation go and why? Both are coming to the conversation with their own personality, thoughts, feelings, and experiences.   For years, psychologists have tried to understand what contributes to effective parenting and strong parent-child relationships.  And for years, researchers have said that this is cultivated by things like knowing what’s going on in your teens life: with whom are they spending time, what are they doing, where are they going, when will they be home, and how they’re doing.  Another component is finding the right balance of being responsiveness to them and having a structured and predictable environment.   This sounds easy enough, right?  The Goodness of Fit Model suggests that the  teen’s temperament, the parent’s temperament, and the demands and expectations of the environment are important contributors to how easy it really is. 

The Goodness of Fit Model Model suggests that a teen’s development is not based on a specific personality trait, but rather on the the way in which  their temperament, other people’s temperament, and their environment interact.  A person’s temperament is their natural style of interacting with people, places and things, whereas the environment is inclusive of all the different contexts in which people interact with one another.  These contexts include things like family, school, work, and peer groups.  A good fit is established by finding, or creating, a match in these areas: 1) the parent and the child’s temperament, (2) the parent and his/her environment, and (3) the teen and his/her environment. When this happens, parent-teen relationships are healthier and teens are happier with themselves and the world around them.  Teens have a higher self-esteem when they feel like they can successfully navigate their relationships and activities.  As you would expect, a poor match can have the opposite impact.

You have more options for how you respond to situations when you enter into them with an understanding of both you and your teen’s perspective. Giving up being right doesn’t mean you have to be wrong.  It may be that you and your teen simply approach things differently. When you are present to who your teen is and why they react the way they do,  you can avoid some of the recurring battles in your household.   Doing this goes a long way in  building trust between you and your teen, while making parenting more enjoyable!

The Goodness of Fit Model looks at two component: The behavior fit and the emotional fit.  The behavioral fit refers to the fit between the person and the environment, while the emotional fit refers to the fit between individuals.  Using the  example above, let’s look at behavioral fit.  Maybe Sam likes to keep to himself, but he shares a bedroom with his teenage brother. This can leave Sam frustrated when he wants space and his room is occupied by his brother.  When you think about emotional fit, consider whether your teen has a compatible or incompatible temperament in relation to some the people in his/her life….including yourself!  Looking at our example again, maybe the mom is really introverted and is internally processing her bad day at work, while Sam wants to talk about what he is feeling.  It is normal for it to be more challenging for you to understand a teen who has a very different temperament than you. You may even find yourself having less patience to deal with certain things because of your teen’s temperament.

Whether your temperament clashes or is compatible with your teen, you can have a big impact on the interactions you have with one another, and your level of satisfaction!  Start by recognizing the similarities and differences, and consider when you can  make adjustments in your parenting to better meet the needs of your teen.  You can also help your teen learn how to interact with people who  approach situations in different ways than themselves. Below are some additional strategies for understanding and managing “fit”:

  • Have discussions that acknowledge, but do not judge the other person’s way of interacting in the world. This will increase trust and understanding in your relationship.
  • Approach your teen with empathy and work through differences in a way that acknowledges both reactions. Giving up being right, doesn’t mean you have to be wrong.
  • Teach teens to recognize the “other” person’s perspective. This is also important because it is during this time that teens tend to be heavily focused on themselves.
  • Help your teen recognize and engage in environments that fit their personal temperament.
  • Anticipate what your teen may need in order to handle a person or an environment that is not a good fit. For example, prepare a shy teen for overcrowded events. Teens do better when they know what to expect.
  • Have realistic expectations of teens. Try to avoid putting them in situations that are counter to their temperament. This can make them feel bad about themselves and can ultimately decrease their self-esteem.
  • Acknowledge teens who have a challenging temperament. By doing this, you can recognize that teen behavior is not always a result of “bad” parenting. You alone are not fully responsible for the way your teen is or is not.
  • Engage your teen in activities that match their temperament. It can be helpful to put active teens in sports, emotionally expressive teens in music, funny teens in drama, and academic teens in math or chess club.
  • Find chores that match their temperament.  Consider having active teens mow the lawn, less active kids fold the laundry, and  emotionally expressive teens walk the dogs.

When teens learn to put themselves in situations that “fit” their temperament, they are able to feel successful in their interactions with others and the world around them!

Happy Parenting,

Making a Difference in Your Teen’s Life

Parenting teens is so different than parenting younger children. Parenting young children involves teaching them about the world, giving them boundaries, and keeping them safe. The older they get, the more parents learn about who their child is and what their child needs to grow into adulthood. Home can provides a place where teens can talk about their day and ask questions in a safe environment. In that way, parents try to provide the scaffolding and unconditional love that allows their teen to take healthy risks and learn from their experiences.

Recently, a parenting professional by the name of Laura Kaine sent out a YouTube video called “You are Special” by Nick Vujicic. A few years ago, I saw another presentation of his. He was speaking to high school students about never giving up. In this presentation, he gave the message that if he could do the things he does with no limbs, they should be able to accomplish anything they put their mind to. This message leaves us with the reality that our teens must choose to put their mind to it. When teen are struggling to make that choice, parents have to try to stay in relationship and support their teen as much as possible.

Of course, parents are not unaware of the power of peers. Who your teen chooses to spend time with provides another context for information. Sometimes it is the parent’s role to intervene when that information is either inaccurate or creating an unsafe environment for their teen. It is important to remember that even though it can feel like your efforts go unnoticed, parenting is involves conveying unconditional love, providing appropriate boundaries, and having lots of conversations. It doesn’t mean that you are going to get it right all the time because we are all human. But, as much as possible parents can try to have an open dialogue with their teen instead of lecturing them.

Check out this video about the impact of parents …. it is inspiring! AND continue to remember that you really do make a difference.

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