Adolescent years of our children represent an important stage in the development of children where significant neural, hormonal and developmental changes are taking place, which also give rise to rapid changes in behavioural patters. Thus this period symbolizes one of great anxiety, challenge and anguish for many parents. The struggle for independence and a growing identity, often rebellious, forces a lot of parents to seek guidance; and at this juncture what can be more comforting than the able counselling of a seasoned practitioner who has helped thousands of parents deal with the challenges of parenthood?
It was with this intent that the school organized a workshop by renowned psychologist and counsellor Dr. Vasantha R. Patri on the popular topic of “Growing Up Years – Understanding the Teenager” on 22nd August 2015, for the parents of our adolescent children (classes V–XII). Dr. Patri is currently the chairperson of Indian Institute of Counselling, New Delhi. She was on the faculty of Psychology in the Lady Shri Ram College of Delhi University for 30 years. She has authored many books apart from articles in numerous research publications, popular newspapers and magazines.
The talk was well received by our parents who enthusiastically participated in the exchange with examples from their own experiences at home. The wide variety of experiences and their subtle nuances underscored the need to put our own behaviours and intent to conscious scrutiny; Dr. Patri drove home the point that motivation, behavioural problems and discipline issues could all be handled better and we could all be better parents if only we follow certain scientifically validated simple practices, rather than crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. What follows is some of the key ideas of Dr. Patri’s talk.
- There is no such thing as a perfect parent. But there is something that every parent could do to become a better parent and ensure a healthy relationship with their children. Building a sound, trustworthy and friendly relationship is often the answer to many of the travails and at times it is the only thing that can be done.
- It is important to refrain from stepping into the shoes of your child and doing things for them. If it’s not putting your child at risk, give them the leeway to make age-appropriate decisions and learn from the consequences of their choices. Give your teenager a say in what and how things are to be done.
- A lot of parents don’t want growing up to involve any pain, disappointment, or failure. But protecting your child from the realities of life takes away valuable learning opportunities – before they’re out on their own. It is extremely important to allow children to make mistakes and to learn from them.
- Adolescent years are when important changes take place in the physiology and brain chemistry of children and during these years it is important that they are exposed to enriching experiences such as socialization, play and physical activities. Cutting them down for academic studies will take away important sources of learning and development.
- Boys and girls differ in personalities, characteristics, and interests; are very group oriented but always within the same gender. Accept natural separation of boys and girls. Recognize and support their need for acceptance from peer group.
- Children should not be compared with each other and others; it won’t be acceptable to you as a parent if the child compares you with others. Everyone is unique and the child is in the process of developing their unique identity.
- Be fair in dealings and relationships with the child. Provide opportunities for competing, but help the child see that losing is a part of playing. Do not ridicule, but help the child learn to take responsibility for her/his behaviour. Express your love and support for the child who falls short of meeting your personal standards of right and wrong.
- Rebellion is normal at this stage; help the child develop their identity by remaining accessible and staying connected, while still enforcing reasonable limits. Let the child know that you accept him/her, even though you do not approve of specific behaviours. Resist the urge to be a friend to your child, but remain friendly!
- Be consistent in the way you discipline your child. Never punish when you are angry! Use reason and not guilt for persuading your child! Attack the specific behaviour and not the child. A parent has to remain friendly, keeping their sense of humor and never become the enemy of their children!
- Your teenager will try testing your limits and patience. However, she/he is still your child and after all is said and done, she/he will still need you and expect you to be available. The one thing that all parents could do is to develop acceptance, encourage independence and decision making and remain connected. Children do best when they have a solid relationship with their parents.
There you have it! Some pearls of wisdom from a practicing expert, gleaned from decades of scientific work. While no amount of counselling can equip us to deal with all our parenting challenges perfectly, here is something all of us could use to supplement our own intuitive parenting skills and wisdom. If this helps, we have come a few steps ahead in our journey. After all, parenting, like learning, is a never ending process!