Great Kids, Great Parents

Infant/Child Development and the Importance of Children's Feelings

The Key to Your Relationship with Your Teenager

Understanding Teenagers

Teens are Great - and Understandable

Teenagers cause parents such angst! So let's address three questions: What are some of the issues with which parents and teens struggle? How can we understand teenagers? And what one key might be most helpful in your relationship with your teen and his or her development?


Teen and Parent Issues

Teenagers are remarkable - the volatility! The passion! The chaos, self-absorption, mood shifts, love and anger, separation and closeness.

What are teenagers dealing with? Physical changes, puberty, sexuality; the formation of their own identity, as they grapple with their identifications with their mother and father and try to figure out their own interests. Increased pressure around school, work, and friendships abound.

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And what do parents struggle with? How to give their teens both roots and wings - how to enhance healthy maturation and independence while providing necessary structure and boundaries. And the arguments and distortions the teens inflict upon their parents - all this can leave parents gasping, remembering their own adolescence, and asking themselves why their teenagers have to separate in such a noisy, messy (in every sense of the word!), and provocative fashion.


Understanding Your Teenager: Focus on the Feelings

The best way to understand your teenager is by focusing on his or her feelings. Feelings are the foundation. Behaviors are caused by feelings.

Human beings appear to be born with the capacity for approximately nine feelings: interest (curiosity), enjoyment, surprise, distress, anger, fear, shame, disgust (reaction to toxic tastes) and dissmell (reaction to toxic odors). These feelings combine with each other and with experience to form our complex emotional life. Remember the issues with which teenagers struggle as noted above? These issues all stir up feelings: distress, joy, anger, embarrassment, and on and on.

So, how can we make teenagers understandable? Focus on - and talk about - their feelings!


The Main Key

And, yes, in the midst of all this complexity, there really is one major key which can enhance your relationship with your teenager and help his or her development. Focus like a laser beam on the feeling of interest (or curiosity). The feeling of interest is the root of all our exploratory, learning, and creative activities. Do your best with your teenager to figure out what his/her major interest(s) is, and then help pursue it. Does she like horses and riding? Find her a stable and opportunity to ride and take care of horses. Does he love baseball? Take him to games, get him a coach, and help him participate in whatever teams and leagues he wants. Does she like acting and singing? Get her to drama classes, stage opportunities, and a voice instructor. Is he passionate about firefighting and paramedic work? Hook him up with fire department programs, ride-along opportunities, and CPR and paramedic classes. Think it won't work? Try it!

By understanding and focusing on what your teenager is interested in, you set them up to put 110% into their life. You give them great teen years, and you also give them the best tools for the rest of life's major decisions - their work and relationships.

 

 

Paul C. Holinger, M.D., M.P.H., is a psychiatrist and adult and child/adolescent psychoanalyst. He is author of What Babies Say Before They Can Talk.

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