Dr Asha Pemberton
Young people are experts in understanding youth culture. For parents who seek to secure a quality relationship while maintaining their role as parent, it is sometimes difficult to accept that there are many things that their teen knows that they do not. While parents have earned the wisdom of lived experience, changing social rules and structures means that emerging young people will have different perspectives. This has always been the case.
For adults, appropriate and effective parenting involves creating a powerful partnership with your teen to support and guide them, while allowing them to take flight. Critical to this is allowing them to understand the environment they have to navigate and learning from them the issues that affect them most.
As a starting point, parents should humbly and respectfully ask their teens and tweens about their lives and ways in which they need support. In order to provide the foundation that young people require, parents are most effective when they approach from a position of knowledge. While it is easy to assume and infer, it is more challenging but more accurate to ask.
Take time to converse with teens, seek explanations and listen with a view to understanding the contexts of their lives: friend-related issues; academic challenges; goals; dreams; aspirations. There are so many things that swirl around in the teen brain; taking time to help them unpack and make sense of it all is a secure place to start.
Keep an open mind
After delving into their deeper thoughts, parents will likely uncover many aspects of their teen’s lives that they never understood. Many young people struggle with their mental health, sense of identity, body image and social acceptance. They question themselves and where they fit in to the world. They challenge social norms and many have an entrepreneurial spirit that opposes their traditional family view point. In order to support young people in becoming their very best, parents often need to widen their perspectives. They also need to accept, sometimes, that the paths their teens choose may not be what was hoped for them.
Our tweens and teens do not always know how to articulate the things that they need. They may choose to protect parents from the complexity of their lives due to fear of non-acceptance or their own insecurity. These tendencies can lead to potentially harmful scenarios, where young people alternatively reach out to less trustworthy adults or older peers, because it feels easier. Parents have in important role to play in preventing this, by managing their own reactions and encouraging young people to be honest, without fear of repercussion.
Empower your teen to trust themselves
When we treat teens as experts in their own lives, they feel empowered. With empowerment, they tackle larger more complex challenges and also take the time to figure things out. Competence leads to confidence. The more parents assume a position of humility, allowing open dialogue, learning from teens and encouraging them to take charge, the better they become equipped as emerging young adults. While young people will not have all the answers to the challenges of life, neither do their parents! The process of learning and growing occurs bilaterally between parents and teens. Allowing yourself as a parent to learn from your teen, supports their willingness to be responsive and learn from you.