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Parenting teens

CEBU, Philippines - There comes a time, most  often between the kids’ ages  of  12 and 15,  when parents complain that they somehow do not recognize their children anymore. They miss their sweet little son or daughter.  In the sweet child’s place now stands an irritable, gawky, defiant, and sometimes even insolent young person.

What used to be sweet kids are now doing what they know better not to do.  “What gives?” parents ask. 

For one thing there are hormonal changes at puberty.  The kids’ bodies are quickly changing. Parents have to keep buying new clothes and shoes for the kids more often because these are quickly outgrown, even way before these get worn out.

There’s also acne, body hair, and even PMS with the girls, as part of the hormonal changes.  It’s natural to be irritated and become self-conscious when a zit shows up on one’s face and his or her body morphs a bit every so often. These are just some of the physical changes.

Psychologically, teens are developing too.  They’re moving from latency, a rather quiescent phase, into adolescence – one of the more turbulent periods in life. It is during adolescence that an individual becomes more concerned about his or her identity.  Teens are trying to figure out who they are as well as how they would like to be – the reason why teens “try on” different  personality traits. 

They might act coy at one time and macho at another, or even both at the same time.  Then they may try on a sporty image. Then they try being rebellious, looking like bad boys or bad girls. And then suddenly they might turn pious and very well-behaved, or they may just “chill” like nothing bothers them (notwithstanding the turbulence they’re going through).

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This display of unpredictable personality traits also gets reflected in the way teens choose to dress and groom themselves, and even in their eating habits. Some try tattoos and body piercings; others may try being a vegan, try alcoholic drinks or smoke. And there’s noticeable difference in the way they relate with others, whether their peers, siblings, parents, authority figures etc.

Many parents are in a quandary as to how to deal with such eclectic behavior of their teenage children.

The teens shall be allowed some freedom to explore themselves and some space to figure out on their own how they want to shape their individual identities.  In other words, parents shall just let their teenage kids be. But the freedom shall only apply after the parents will have clearly drawn the limits and defined which behaviors are to be tolerated.

There shall be agreed consequences for unacceptable behavior, and parents have to be consistent in implementing these. Parental discipline is necessary. The kids need to know that their parents are not bluffing and will surely follow through with whatever rules have been set.

For example, if the rule is that all gadgets with screens are turned off by 10 p.m. before a school day and the kid is still online or video-gaming by midnight, it might mean loss of privilege to use that particular gadget for 24 hours.  Repeated offences may also mean stiffer penalties, perhaps extending the loss of privilege to 48 or 72 hours, or to a week or month.

The offence-consequence system shall also apply to the agreed “home before” and “no guest beyond” rules. Putting the rules in writing is a good idea, with each member of the household given a copy, including certain household helpers (e.g. the driver or the one designated to open the gate). But parents shall see to it that penalties for offences are fair and enforceable.

A frequent source of misunderstanding between parents and their teens is what it means to be “grounded,” which activities and privileges would be suspended when one is grounded. It could mean no out-of-school activities, no socializing, no phone calls, no going online etc.  The period of being “grounded” shall be made clear, as well.

Adolescents need to know that freedom comes with responsibility – that they are free to do what they like so long as they are responsible enough to stay within bounds.  It is true that it is so hard – if not impossible – to discipline someone who has nothing to lose. Discipline is so important, whether within the family or at life at large. (FREEMAN)

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