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Adolescence Defined

Julia Murphy, LMFT

Adolescence has historically been characterized as a period of great turbulence and change in the lives of teens and parents. Media images of high profile stars like Justin Bieber and Lindsey Lohan careening off the rails with their involvement in drugs, alcohol and reckless behavior seem to support this portrait and strike fear in the hearts of many parents. Nonetheless, I like to look at this phase of development as a time of essential, vibrant growth and change that, at its most successful, can meaningfully prepare a teen for a rich and varied adult life. Research proves that the majority of teens make it through high school, are attached to their families, and escape serious involvement with violence or drug abuse. This optimism is not an attempt to discount the real risks involved in the adolescent years or to ignore those teens who feel isolated, lost, or out of control, but rather to promote the sort of guidance and support parents, professionals, and mentors can offer teens to give them the best chance for positive development.

It is our job as adults to create opportunities for teens to be exposed to relationships and environments that promote growth and minimize risk. The starting point is to preemptively improve the one-to-one relationships that are integral to a youth’s happiness, success, independence and security. The hope is that these improvements will have a ripple effect on larger systems like the family system, the school system, the criminal justice system or the social welfare system. One way to make a powerful difference is for adults in a teen’s life to understand and empathize with the amazing changes, risks, joys, aggravations, excitement and growing pains that happen during the teen years and the purpose they serve in a child’s life. According to The John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath publication on Adolescent Development, research supports that (1) adolescence is a time of opportunity; (2) normal, healthy development is uneven; (3) young people develop positive attributes through learning and experience; (4) the larger community plays a fundamental and essential role in helping young people move successfully toward adulthood.  TO BE CONTINUED

Helping Your Child Master Skills

The key is collaboration. Academic and social skills do not develop in a vacuum. They are the result of interactions between the child and his/her environment. Your child’s capacity to complete tasks independently occurs when skills have been mastered and external supports are no longer required. For example, complex academic assignments may overwhelm your child’s brain. She needs you to look at the task with her and collaboratively develop a plan for how the assignment or project will be executed. This means breaking the task down into steps, then creating timelines for each step to be accomplished. You might also have to work with your child to actually complete the steps. The idea here is not to do the work for your child but to do it with her. This collaboration will enhance his learning, while also helping her develop the organizational and planning skills necessary to eventually mange the work on her own.

6 Ways to Parent Wisely (Especially with Challenging Kids)

As backed by numerous research studies, your ability to effectively model the following skills for your child will help you strengthen your relationship with him or her:

  1. Manage your difficult emotions. Your ability to identify and reflect on your feelings without acting on them immediately is critical to healthy relationships. When you react impulsively to your negative emotions, you increase the likelihood of saying something to your child that you might later regret. You are also more likely to be punitive, which also ruptures your connection to your child. I’m not suggesting that you absolve your child of responsibility, but I am suggesting that you hold him or her accountable in a thoughtful way.
  2. Appropriately express your emotions. Your capacity to experience, reflect, accurately label and effectively communicate emotions helps your child develop the same capacity. In fact, I think it is accurate to say that one’s ability to process and communicate feelings is fundamental to any healthy relationship.
  3. Listen carefully to your child. Take the time to listen to your child’s feelings and understand his experiences. It is important that you not impose your interpretation of his experience. Try to understand experiences from his perspective. The more time you take to listen to his feelings and help him label these feelings, the better he will become at managing difficult emotions over time.
  4. Problem-solve with your child. When challenging situations arise, it is helpful if you can problem solve with your child about how to address whatever the situation might be. This is how your child develops better problem solving skills. It is particularly helpful when you can anticipate difficult situations and trouble shoot with your child in advance.
  5. Maintain perspective on your child’s development. Brain development and emotional maturity is a process that takes time. While we cannot force the brain to develop any faster than nature will allow, we can remove impediments to brain development and emotional maturation. For example, if your child has poor impulse control, you will not find a punishment that makes him less impulsive. You can, however, identify situations where he is more vulnerable to more impulsive behavior and together come up with strategies for maintaining self control in those situations. In addition, if he does behave impulsively, you can discuss his behavior with him and have him take responsibility for his actions. Keep in mind that the brain’s breaking system responsible for filtering what is said and done will not fully develop until he is between 25 and 30 years of age.
  6. Adjust your expectations of your child and yourself. It is important that you understand your child’s strengths and challenges when setting appropriate expectations. Avoid using, age, grade or comparisons with sibling or peers when deciding on what your child should be able to do. Every child is unique with his own rate of development. There is no formula for setting and maintaining expectations other than listening to your child and trial and error.

 

 

Parenting – React or Reflect?

A “reactive” parenting style focuses on a child’s observable behavior with a tendency to incorrectly assume negative motives for academic problems, behavior issues or social challenges. This is a mindset that is easy to fall into but it reduces your child’s challenges to intentional choices he or she is making, a perspective that will leave you feeling frustrated, angry and confused. In this state, you are more likely to react intensely and/or punitively. When talking with parents and teachers, I frequently hear them use terms like “lazy,” “defiant,” “attention seeking” and “bossy.” By using these terms, they are labeling a child’s observable behavior and making negative assumptions about his motives. Instead, what a child’s problematic behavior usually indicates is an issue with environmental demands (ie: home and school) exceeding their capacity to succeed. So, how do you make a shift in parenting style to help your child? The first step is trusting that children will do well if they can. Remember, children with learning differences, in particular, lack the skills to consistently meet environmental demands. Ask yourself why your child would choose to do poorly if they possessed the skills to do well. The human brain is not hard wired to work that way. Develop some curiosity about why your child is struggling. Is too much being asked of him? As a “reflective” parent, you can help your child feel that their thoughts, emotions and experiences are understood, considered and accepted. You might not agree with a child’s perception of an experience; however, you can still take the time to listen and try to understand. Assisting your child with describing his experience and learning how to name emotions helps him to tolerate and effectively manage challenging feelings. Listening to your child’s feelings without judgement allows him to experience you as a resource for coping with any challenge that arises.

Recommended: New Book on Learning Disabilities

“Helping Your Child with Language-Based Learning Disabilities” by Daniel Franklin, Ph.D. My good friend and colleague, Dr. Daniel Franklin has just come out with a new book for parents on how best to help their children with challenges like Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, ADHD and processing disorders. Dr. Franklin, who has been in education for over 30 years, is founder of Franklin Educational Services, which provides individualized school support services for students of all ages and needs. Franklin helps parents discover how a secure relationship between them and their child can optimize the child’s learning ability by enhancing motivation, reducing anxiety, and increasing flexibility. The book also contains practical strategies for navigating school and home life. I highly recommend it. For more information go to https://www.franklined.com/

Teen Stressors

The teen years are typically filled with stress due to the rapid physical, cognitive and emotional changes adolescents undergo. What stresses teens is often different than what stresses adults.

Teen Stressors:

  • Social awkwardness
  • Being bullied
  • Academic pressures
  • Managing an overfilled schedule
  • Self consciousness about physical appearance
  • Peer pressure to use alcohol and drugs
  • Dramatic physical and cognitive changes
  • Family and peer conflict
  • College transition
  • Adapting to greater independence and responsibility

As a parent, you can help your teen manage stress. The best way to approach an anxious teen is to be as calm as possible. The first rule of thumb is to remember to contain your own anxiety. Be open and listen non-judgmentally. Listen more than you speak. Empathy and mirroring feelings can be very reassuring and will help your teen feel that his or her feelings are normal.

At a later time when your teen’s anxiety has passed, you might suggest some positive ways to manage stress like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, breaking down tasks into smaller steps, adequate sleep, exercise and a balanced diet, downtime, and enjoyable activities with friends. Help your teen find opportunities to build his or her unique strengths and deep interests, which will also reduce anxiety and lead to greater self confidence.

Manage Negative Emotions About Parenting an LD Child

Parents cope with a wide range of difficult feelings about their child’s learning challenges. Will my son or daughter be accepted to a good middle school, high school or college? Will he be able to create a life for himself? Will she ever be able to make and keep friends? All these questions weigh heavily on your mind and increase stress. While you may love your child and want the bet for him or her, your feelings of disappointment, confusion, helplessness, shame and anger may not seem very loving. You might find yourself trying to deny that you have these feelings, or you may take them as a sign that you are failing as a parent. The difficulty with this guilty mindset is that it only intensifies already painful feelings. Here’s my message to you: When parenting any child, a range of feelings, both positive and negative, is natural and human. It may be counterintuitive, but this self acceptance is crucial to processing your emotions and maintaining the composure to be present for your child. From this place, you’ll be better able to implement effective parenting strategies. Being comfortable with a wide range of feelings also helps you develop a greater capacity to understand and accept the range of emotions and experiences your child will have.

Of course, if you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed or your anger is out of control, seek the help and support of a professional.

Parenting with Love and Imperfection

The patterns of relating that children demonstrate with important adults in their lives, as well as their peers, are dependent on early relational experiences with parents or caretakers. If a child has had his or her needs met most of the time, they come to trust that others will also respond to them consistently.

As a parent, you do not have to be perfectly responsive for your child to develop a sense of trust in the world. In fact, it may come as a relief that if you were perfectly responsive to her needs, you would actually hinder her emotional growth!

Misunderstandings, disappointments and other types of ruptures are inevitable in all relationships. When misunderstandings do occur with your child, they become an opportunity for you to help your child process and resolve the experience. These ruptures and repairs actually facilitate emotional growth. Saying “I’m sorry” to your child now and then goes a long way.