They may walk upright, have the ability to use tools, wear clothes, and occasionally use a knife and fork, but for many parents the question is.. "Is my teenager really human?"
Remember the days when the only real worry was whether you needed to get them Barbie or Cindy, Action Man or Power Rangers? Ahh, such simple times…when your child spoke to you in words of more than one syllable, came out of their room before noon at the weekend, and was thrilled to spend time with mum and dad.
Today's image of a teenager is someone unable to communicate in more than grunts, having no interest in anything but skateboarding and grunge, or alcopops and Christina, and likely to either take drugs or get pregnant by the end of the weekend. But where does this image come from, and is it really fair?
Television and the press frequently portray our children as dangerous, unpredictable criminally minded delinquents that do nothing apart from use drugs, get drunk, steal cars and get pregnant. Ask yourself how many teens you know, and then ask how many of them fall into the descriptions the media use…not many, if any.
Modern research indicates that although most adolescents DO experience a period of time when they DO present difficult behaviour, as long as they are supported positively and feel loved and wanted, they are unlikely to show anti-social behaviour or raise eyebrows as they walk down the street.
Consider your own youth. Depending on your age, your generation would have been linked with Mods, Rockers, Punks, Goths, and more recently Grungers. Each generation of teenagers has been accused of criminal activity, chaotic behaviour and generally undermining the fabric of society. However, what is also common with each generation of teens is that they grow up, get jobs, buy houses and have children. That's right; yesteryears teens are today's MPs, doctors and teachers. In fact our very own Prime Minister, Tony Blair, played guitar and sang in a rock band as a teenager.
So what do you do when the hair starts to change colour (usually to jet black, bleach blonde or bright orange), the speech dissipates and strange bass rhythms begin to emanate from their room? The first thing to do is not panic. Consider where they are emotionally and what pressure they are under. This may give you some insight into what your teenager is experiencing.
Young people face enormous pressures as they grow up. This has never been more true than for today's teenagers. Adolescence is not always the carefree time we often recall. Before you start to complain that they never talk, or badger them to have a shower, consider the pressure they are under.
Adolescence is one of the most difficult developmental stages a child can experience. At this time in their lives they endeavour to discover who they are, how they fit into the world and what they want from life. Philosophers have asked these three questions for centuries, with new answers being proposed constantly.
Alongside these major psychological adjustments is your child's development into a sexually aware young person. This, again, can be a very scary experience for them. Each person is different. Unfortunately, young people often gauge their own worthiness and success on what is portrayed in film and media. The very same publications that tell you your child is a pseudo-criminal thug are the same publications that tell your child what to do and what is and isn't right for them. There's a certain irony that the media often condemns the very things it has created in our young people.
Their friends will also be placing your teenager under pressure. At this stage in their lives there is a tremendous pressure on teenagers to conform to whatever fashion or style is the rage. Pressures to be sexually active, drink alcohol or use dugs can also figure strongly in your teenager's life, and further pressure from you to conform to your wishes will only upset or confuse them further.
Also, alongside all of these pressures is the expectation that they will continue to study hard at school and be successful in the subjects they have chosen. The pressure on young people to be successful at school has been there for decades. What has increased, however, is the amount of pressure experienced by pupils and teachers to succeed. With those who have failed frequently criticised for not meeting the required standard and ironically, those who do well being told that "things are easier now" and having their success downplayed and undermined.
It's A Jungle Out There
Adolescence can be a treacherous time, with many inherent risks. But many may be exaggerated…here's some food for thought...
There are some worrying statistics that indicate that as many as one in four children experience bullying at some stage in their lives. There are numerous ways in which a child or young person may experience bullying: they may experience name-calling, have nasty rumours spread about them, suffer intimidation or physical abuse.
The impact of bullying can vary from one person to another, but there can be no doubt that bullying places incredible pressure on teens when they are already under high levels of stress due to their adolescent experiences.
If you are concerned that your teenager is experiencing bullying, the main thing you can do is be responsive and supportive. Be ready to listen and respond sensitively. Also, each school is required to have an anti-bullying policy in place, with a clear strategy for countering bullying when it occurs. As a parent, you have the right to discuss this with the school and clarify whether the strategy is working, and request action or support for your teenager.
Whatever you choose to do, ensure your decision is made with your son or daughter, be sensitive to his or her needs and don't just rush into the school demanding action.
As your child becomes a teenager you may begin to feel that you are no longer the biggest influence in his or her life. It's likely that the days of father and son fishing trips, or mother and daughter shopping trips may have long gone. This is likely to have been replaced by time with friends and schoolmates, who often appear to have far greater influence than you would like.
Peer pressure is a term that describes the pressure a group of friends can exert on an individual. Where your child's feelings of belonging, success and popularity are linked with this pressure your teenager can be coerced into conforming to whatever behaviour their friends expect. This is not always done in an obvious way, with many of the pressures your child experiences being subtle to the point of being subliminal. In fact their friends are unlikely to be actively trying to influence him or her, but merely trying to conform themselves.
You may find yourself hearing terms like "everyone's doing it, why can't I?". Especially regarding staying out late, clubbing or sexual activity. Good education regarding sex and relationships will help, particularly if the school, friends and family are being consistent with what is being said. Again being supportive and responsive is important. It is very tempting to dictate to your teenager what is and isn't OK. The difficulty lies with the fact that this is the time teenagers are trying to make sense of themselves and the world and re-examining the rules they had previously accepted without question. Dictating to him or her, therefore, is likely to push them further away from you, not draw them closer. Give them time, listen and accept, be responsive and unconditional with your love and support and be ready to pick up the pieces. Remember they are only teenagers for seven years, and, with the right support and care, should pull through OK.
As your child experiences the joys of adolescence they will be undergoing many different changes. A lot of these changes will be physical, with changing body shape, body hair and spots. These changes are not always welcome, and many find the changes they undergo unsettling.
Alongside the physical changes, your teenager will be trying to work out who they are as they move from childhood to adulthood. These changes, and the uncertainty they bring, often leave young people anxious and lacking in confidence. Should your teen feel that he or she does not fit into what the media or their friends say is an attractive, successful young person, their confidence in themselves and their self-esteem, can be undermined.
Avoid making jokes at your teen's appearance or the changes they are undergoing. Be responsive and sensitive to how they feel. It is easy to make light of the changes your teen is experiencing, but his or her experiences are real, and very powerful to them. Your GP can offer advice regarding acne and body changes, and medication can help with extreme cases of acne. Whatever you can do to reassure your teen that you love and accept him/her, no matter what, they are likely to be more confident and more able to cope with the difficulties adolescence throws at them.
The higher their self-esteem...the better they will be able to cope with life.
More information and advice about difficult behaviour
Web site: BBCi Parenting Pages
Web site: Practical Parenting
Web site: Parentline Plus
Web site: Families Online - Parenting Teenagers
This Is Earth Calling
Communication is the key, or so they say. Sometimes it feels like you'd have more luck contacting the dead, but bear with it, there is someone in there listening…just not answering!
Your teenager can be difficult to communicate with. You may often feel that your teen is actively avoiding talking to you. This is a natural part of the adolescent stage, and there are two primary reasons for this:
Your teen will be undergoing all sorts of changes, physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically. Many of these changes can leave teenagers confused and unsure of what is happening to them.
Secondly, your teen may become anxious he or she is lacking in some way. They may feel their ways of acting are too childlike, or be anxious at their lack of social skills or their inability to communicate as well as they would like. Therefore, when your teenager appears sullen, moody and unresponsive, it may not be a case of "getting an attitude", be "in a mood" or acting as if they "think they know everything", but instead they may be lacking the self-confidence or ability to express themselves or their emotions fully.
Dos and Don'ts
Don't judge - You and your teenager are different people. You teen is learning to become an adult in his or her own right. Just because you don't like it…it doesn't mean they're wrong.
Be Flexible - Just because you're ready to talk, they may not be. Your teen is experiencing all sorts of pressures; don't add to them!
Make time - A lot of teens feel they aren't listened to…If they want to talk…LISTEN.
Respect their views - You may not share the same politics but you may have to share the same house. Be ready to acknowledge that they have a valid point of view.
Lead by example - Your children learn by watching how you do things, and how you don't do things. If you shout, interrupt, or dismiss…expect the same.
Don't make snap decisions - Listen to their view, consider their opinion, what they say may or may not make sense, but having a closed mind will not score you any points.
Don't try to get the upper hand - It's not about winning. Your teen will not like to be put down, and doing so is likely to put them off talking to you altogether.
Don't force your opinions onto them - Trying to impose your thoughts or opinions is almost guaranteed to get them rejected.
It's Not What You Do, It's The Way That You Do It
Parenting is parenting and the rules don't change all that much from one child to another. What you do need to do is be consistent, here are some tips:
Keep talking - Your teen may appear to have lost his or her ability to talk, but they still need love, respect and support.
Try not to judge - Things have changed since you were a teen.
Keep Your Sense of Humour - If you can laugh at something, it defuses a lot of the pressure from the situation, but remember not to laugh at your child's concerns or fears - they may appear trivial but they are not, they are real to your teenager.
Minimise criticism - Part of their growing up is making decisions. With this comes making mistakes. You may have been down that road yourself, but they haven't, and they need to learn by their own experiences. This doesn't mean, however, that you should just let them get on with things. Be responsive and supportive to any concerns or questions they have and be ready to pick up the pieces.
Guide them - You can't dictate their future, but you can guide them.
Have clear boundaries - Like all the preceding years, they will keep pushing the boundaries. Keep your rules clear, with reasonable consequences, such as stoppage of pocket money, and things should work out in the end.
Try not to use threats - Threats and orders invite rebellion. This will just be counterproductive for you both.
Negotiate - Your teenager can think through problems logically - talk and negotiate if disagreements occur - this is far more likely to produce agreeable results for you both.
Accept some conflict - This is a very turbulent and confusing time for a child and conflict is inevitable. Your choice lies with how you respond; remember you are the adult, respond like one.
Never hit - Hitting a teenager is likely to make them more defiant, can undermine their self-esteem at a vulnerable time, and damage your relationship.
Sources Of Advice And Guidance
Web site: Kids Direct
Web site: BBCi Parenting Pages
Web site: Raising Kids
Web site: Parentline Plus
Web site: NSPCC
Web site: National Family & Parenting Institute
Who Can Help?
You can discuss any problems with your GP or Health Visitor. In an emergency call 999. Additionally, NPFS or RM Welfare can offer support to families experiencing difficulties.
Phone: 0808 800 5000 - NSPCC (24 hr)
More Information: Dealing with Parental Stress
More Information: NPFS / RM Welfare
More Information: RNCom Helpdesk
Web site: Home-Start
Web site: Parentline Plus
Web site: NSPCC