Dr Asha Pemberton
As quickly as the New Year has begun, so has the return to school for our young people. Whether engaged in exam preparations in-person or continuing online, teens and their parents have had to quickly re-adjust to education and learning. While our system places extreme focus on outcomes and results, it is essential that young people are encouraged to be curious.
Curiosity is the desire to know more, to be able to understand things and apply ideas. Curious teens are generally more purposeful and engage with people and their environment more intentionally. It goes beyond learning for the sake of learning but rather seeking to understand.
The teen brain
During adolescent development, young people naturally question everything. Parents quickly realize that tweens and teens do not simply accept instructions or rules as they are, but rather add their ideas, rebel or re-create their own. These attributes, although challenging to parents, are actually useful. They represent an important stage of critical thinking. Ultimately, we want young people to have the capacity to reason things out and make rational and productive decisions. The process of acquiring those skills is testing the family context and can be supported by parenting approaches. Allowing tweens and teens to be curious, ask questions and be able to voice their opinions are pivotal to this process.
Parents who ask lots of questions and seek answers raise children inclined to do the same. That said, it can be frustrating and tiring for parents, when their young people simply question or raise opposition to every single thing. This is a common challenge identified by parents of teens. Nevertheless, in these moments, parents should be reminded and comforted that not only is this behaviour expected, but when well managed leads to positive development. Be calm, mindful and patient when your teen seems to let nothing pass but yet use these opportunities to turn the tables and ask them for idea and solutions. Reframe times of potential conflict into teachable moments.
While it is the goal of all parents to support academic success for their teens, it is important to remember that academia and success are extremely broad concepts that extend well beyond examinations and certificates. Emotional intelligence, creativity, innovation, communication skills, volunteerism and leadership are but a few of the holistic skills that all teens should develop. Many naturally curious and creative teens are denied the opportunities of exploring natural abilities and are instead excessively burdened with extra-lessons and classes. While it is important that fundamental education is provided to all young people and tailored to their abilities and potential, parents are well advised to allow tweens and teens to intuitively explore other interests that can lead to emotional or even future employment fulfilment.
Seek their ideas and allow their errors
One of the most important communication tools between parents and teens, is giving them the voice and opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts. Even when parents can literally see the likely outcome of a decision directly ahead, young people need to make decisions and learn from them. We all learn through the experiences of life…both those immediately positive and those which lead to discomfort. As this New Year and school term continue, make active steps to engage your young people and open lines of communication. Support them in making decisions and allow them to play out. When things are not optimal, be supportive but not chastising and when outcomes are good, praise and reward them. Curious teens develop holistically, which is the ultimate goal of parenting adolescents.