Understanding Your Teen
 

How to Understand Your Teenager Better

A mum’s experience through the 3 stages of teenhood

By Elisa Ng | 19 July, 2019

Teenagehood – that awkward and angry phase of development that we’ve come to view with trepidation and confusion, but did you know that adolescence is marked by three different stages? I read about this concept, and I saw it happen in my children. In fact, my three teens are roughly at each of the three stages now.

Early adolescence

My youngest, who is turning 13 soon, is in the early adolescence stage – he is still emotionally attached and dependent on us. However, he experiences sudden outbursts of anger and frustration, and is often short-fused.

During such times, the best thing I can do is to stay calm and tell him we will only continue the conversation when he is calm. I don’t always succeed so sometimes we end up quarreling.

However, when we’re both calm, he would apologise because he knows that he was being unreasonable. He has explained his behaviour by saying, “I don’t know why I am like that. I don’t know what is happening.” I apologise often too, because he is sensitive and easily hurt. His logic of how I offended him is often difficult to understand but his feelings of hurt are real.

It isn’t always easy but I try to shower him with loads of affection even as I continue to help him to cope with his schoolwork and life in general.

I did not have such wisdom and maturity when my first two sons went through adolescence. I was often very hurt and angry with them. I practically trashed my relationships with them. Things only started to turn around when I realised that unless I changed (because they sure were not going to), I was going to lose my sons.

Things only started to turn around when I realised that unless I changed (because they sure were not going to), I was going to lose my sons.

Mid-adolescence

Mid-adolescence is typically characterised by more frequent conflicts and tension between parents and teens. But it’s not just the teen who is at fault. While teenagers may have their angst, we have our fair share too. One of the reasons I think that teenagers are difficult to deal with is that they become disappointed with their parents and act out in disrespect and anger.

One of my sons often said I was a hypocrite and sneered at my declarations of love. I had to wrestle with those words – first to accept that he was right, and then to come to terms with the fact that I would never reach the standard of perfection he expected of me and for which he used to adore me for. I mourned the loss of his devotion and thinking back, it took me more than 3 years to grow out of that angst.

The words of author Paul Tripp, “His selfishness hooks my selfishness,” capture the experience of mid-adolescence well. The teen is as selfish and self-centered as he was when he was a toddler. However, the expectations of the parent are now higher.

On my part, I expect him to consider my needs now because I think he can. But to him, he is not ready to do so and sees his mother’s love as conditional.

Do I choose not to love him because he brings me little comfort, pride or joy? If my son does not possess a single redeeming quality, would I still love him? Interacting with this teenager reveals to me the limits of my love. His selfishness has hooked mine.

If I could turn back the clock, I would have been less exacting on my demands on him and given him the benefit of the doubt – that he was trying his best, no matter whether his best was good enough for me or not. If I had done that, my relationship with him would have been stronger.

If I could turn back the clock, I would have been less exacting on my demands on him and given him the benefit of the doubt. If I had done that, my relationship with him would have been stronger.

Late adolescence

Late adolescence is an enjoyable phase as our teens start to be more aware of the impact of their actions on others and vice versa. I recall how one son recently explained to his brother about how I could get a heart attack from hypertension. Another son also told me how he would ensure he knows the lyrics of the songs (including songs in a foreign language) he listens to.

Now that I am seeing my older children move into late adolescence and adulthood, I realise that many of the anxieties I felt in the past were unnecessary. Someone said this – teenagers nowadays are not much different from those in the past; they still respond to love.

Now that I am seeing my older children move into late adolescence and adulthood, I realise that many of the anxieties I felt in the past were unnecessary. Teenagers nowadays are not much different from those in the past; they still respond to love.

The way they spend their time is very different, but if you are genuinely interested in them, they will respond to you. I saw this happen just recently. My son was on his phone, but a young adult came up to him to chat. She is a youth leader in church who has known him for 3 years. She started talking to him and asking questions, and he quickly kept his phone to talk to her. We did not have to remind, nag or threaten him. He did it on his own accord.

Two lessons I’ve learnt

As our children get older, we need to start relating to them as friends. While we do not abdicate our role as parents, we need to also become people whom our children will choose as their friends.

As parents, we have the greatest advantage as we know their interests and personalities. I may not know as much as my sons about politics or military equipment, neither can I keep up with their computer games, but I can be a good listener.

I find that my children can happily talk to me for a long time about their areas of interest without me actually understanding much, so long as I stay interested.

When they become teenagers, they need their own space and freedom to try out life. That should be celebrated because they will not learn wisdom and discernment otherwise.

The second thing I’ve learnt is that I need to cultivate my own interest and circle of friends. Children take up a lot of our time and energy, and they give us a joy and comfort. However, when they become teenagers, they need their own space and freedom to try out life. That should be celebrated because they will not learn wisdom and discernment otherwise.

However, this means we suddenly have excess time and energy for ourselves. This may seem like a good thing at first but it can be hard to deal with the emotional void that used to be filled by our children.

When I have my own pursuits and friends, I am firstly emotionally fulfilled and more able to deal with their angst, and secondly, more interesting to be with when we spend time together. I have something to share with them – my life, my friends, my passion and my dreams. I no longer need to live through them, nor need them to fulfil my dreams.

I always remind myself that while I chose to have children, they did not choose to have me as their parent. While they might be alive because of me, I do not ultimately own them. I cannot demand devotion from them just because I choose to give them my love.

My job as a parent is to help them to be successful and at peace with their chosen path. While I pray that they will grow up sharing my values and be counted among my soul-mates, I can only do my best and leave the outcome to God. I am content now to just treasure every moment I have left with them.

Think about:

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