Note to parents: Adolescence is when teenagers really need you

The swirling emotions of adolescence occasionally spin out of control, leaving a wake of frustration and despair for parents who feel powerless when helping their son or daughter. Suffering teens cry out for help by cutting, abusing substances, engaging in casual sex and other dangerous behaviors.

The intensity and overwhelming strength of emotions endured in adolescence are consuming, but feelings come and go. Adolescents often lack the life experience and maturity of their adult counterparts to recognize that their feelings will not last forever. Teens need to be reminded that anger, despair and other feelings will subside.

Teens struggle with the juxtaposition of autonomy and independence with parental restrictions and discipline that are indicative of parental love. Teens require parental involvement and attention to feel safe and loved. As young people move toward adulthood, a delicate balance is required between adult supervision and honoring your child’s ability to accept responsibility and their movement toward freedom. A slow, methodical relinquishing of parental control that maintains age-appropriate guidelines satisfies both the desire for autonomy and the need for parental involvement.

Adolescent pursuit of identity is discovered through self-expression. Tattoos, body piercings, make-up, hair dye and alternative clothing styles are a few examples of identity seeking that lead to potential conflict between parents and their offspring. The more adults protest, the more negative reinforcement is created. Don’t allow the teenager in your life to take control of your emotions. Instead, discuss, rather than engage in a shouting match. Take the time to explain to your teenager why you disagree with their choice of music or clothing, and why that choice doesn’t fit with your family’s values.

Promote communication at every opportunity. Communicate before a problem arises. Discuss daily events and everyday occurrences in addition to more intense issues. The more you talk with your child, the more likely your child will seek you out for discussion and guidance regarding the bigger challenges they encounter in life.

Parents should avoid yelling or lecturing. Raising your voice and giving advice paralyzes communication, causing teenagers to shut down and tune out.

The task is difficult, yet not impossible. Explore ways to communicate with your teen. Despite daily protests, adolescents need adult involvement. Persevere for the young person in your life. Remember they really do need you.

Jennifer L. Gray, Ph.D., provides individual, couple and family counseling. She can be reached at 653-0168.

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