Parenting from an Adolescent’s Perspective
According to WHO, 10% of all adolescents in the world today are suffering from a mental disorder that needs serious medical intervention. While much attention has been rightfully directed at this 10% and addressing serious mental health disorders, there’s a vast majority—90% of adolescents—that often goes unnoticed, silently navigating the tumultuous waters of adolescence. These small, seemingly trivial matters impact adolescents immensely – adolescents that are feeling, not thinking. They have not the slightest clue in the world why they are feeling this way or how they should overcome it.
- I didn’t get an A on this test.
- He didn’t text me back.
- She’s so good at basketball. I can’t play a sport if my life depended on it
- Why is my hair so frizzy?
- Why is my face so asymmetrical?
Why is Alisha always having the time of her life? And her skin is always glowing. I mean, just look at her Instagram! My feed isn’t nearly as good as her feed.
I’m not able to manage my time and get things done at all I don’t have a lot of friends at school, I just feel so lonely sometimes.
To older people, to adults like parents or teachers these issues seem unimportant. We, adolescents, are dramatic for carrying this weight and caring too much. But to what extent are we to blame for this situation? We have existed for a very limited amount of time, thereby have had limited experiences. And it’s not just life experience – our brains are the ones to blame! The limbic system (emotional centre) is taking the wheel and our prefrontal cortex (the part associated with logical reasoning and consequence evaluation) is not entirely developed. We aren’t able to think rationally and look at the bigger picture sometimes, which is why these small things affect us to such great extents.
I’m a teen myself, one that has been working on adolescent mental health for about 5 years now. I’ve spoken to countless adolescents and met their parents or learned what they are like by speaking to their children. I myself have pretty awesome parents. It’s safe to say in my short 15-year life, I’ve seen examples of what a parent should be and what they should not be either.
One cannot truly avoid the difficult emotions and problems that come with adolescents. The truth is – they are inevitable. In fact, they might even be essential for our growth, because they leave us with necessary life skills and problem-solving abilities. However, that is only the case when the adolescent is able to overcome the problem – not when they continue to suffer and/or it leaves a void in their life. What I’ve come to realise is that the type of parents someone has can be a determination factor in their ability to bounce back from issues and recover.
For example, as I said – I believe my parents really aced the whole parenting thing, and they have turned me to a strong, capable individual who isn’t afraid to voice out what she thinks (even to them) Let me give you an example. When I was 8 years old, I was severely bullied by friends; those two friends began tormenting and bullying me, which lasted a whole year. It all started innocently enough. They began leaving me out of their activities, repeatedly saying, “I’m not your friend.” They played with my emotions, making me question myself and apologize for things I hadn’t done. The teasing, name-calling, and mockery became a daily routine, taking a toll on the happy child I used to be. I found myself apologizing for just being me. I started feeling insecure about the way I looked as well when they constantly poked fun at my curly hair and brown skin, which they considered “ugly”. That distorted my perception of myself to an extent I didn’t know was possible. I was at my lowest during this time. I went from the happy child I used to be to a reserved little girl who came home crying almost every day. This continued for a year until I finally gathered the courage to talk to my parents about it. Despite having such a supportive family, it still took me a year to recognize I needed help – which goes on to show just how difficult it becomes for victims of bullying. The next day, during breakfast we were all done with our food and the girls asked me to keep their plates. This was a daily routine – I would keep their plates during lunch, tie their shoelaces, etc. So, I picked everything up and headed towards the garbage area. However, mid-way I turned around and went back up to them. Then I said, “Let’s keep our plates together”. Those 5 words may seem small, but they changed everything for me. I regained power. I was able to form boundaries. Say NO. My parents didn’t ignore me. They didn’t handhold me either. They empowered me to stand my ground and I developed strength and resilience to overcome the problem. It isn’t just this one instance though – it’s their entire parenting style which has shaped me into a strong-minded individual. Unfortunately, I can’t explain my entire life story and every single instance in one article. So, I have come up with a way through which parents can do better for their teens like mine did. Present, Listen, Role Model: the key to being an adolescent’s parent.
Present – it’s the reason I can talk to my parents. I am an adolescent who faces the same issues as I talked about before. So, what makes my parents different? Why do I talk to them about it? Well, it’s because they’re present. What I mean by that is they have always spent time with me. When we talked, they didn’t expect me to open up or demand anything of that sort. I started building trust and began sharing my problems with them. As a parent, you can’t just sit your teen down and expect them to tell you everything.
Trust comes from connection. They need to connect with you, see you, spend time with you. For that, your presence is of utmost importance. Find ways to talk to them every day – not about themselves or their future or something serious, but about a subject they’re interested in or maybe even some gossip. If you talk to your adolescent like you talk to your friend, you treat them like a grown-up who is capable of having a conversation. You show them you value their opinion and input, which further incentivizes them to talk to you. This openness does not come from force or insistence. Rather, your physical AND emotional presence. How to be an emotionally present parent? Don’t be scared of your emotions or being vulnerable in front of your child. Many parents feel the need to project an overly strong facade, however I feel that projection just dehumanises you and hinders the child from seeking help and expressing their own emotions. When my parents and I used to converse, it never felt like they were trying to pry on my life. They themselves would open up and share their problems and express their emotions (even like the ugly ones like frustration) which made me feel comfortable enough to share mine.
In the winter of 2016, an online survey was conducted that asked teenagers “Why don’t you talk to your parents?”
Responses were mostly on the lines of:
- They won’t understand.
- They will judge me.
- They will try to fix me instead of just listening.
- The issue lies in parents’ habits of listening to respond. Their responses to an adolescent sharing are on the lines of “How could you do that?”, “What were you thinking?!” This tendency to instantly judge and shame us creates a sense of regret while sharing our experiences. Even if you pride yourself on being a non-judgmental parent, the inclination to listen in order to solve the problem persists. Providing advice and instructions, though well-intentioned, may not be the support we truly need. Instead, we crave someone who simply listens and is there for us. You might wonder how this approach helps. Well, beyond guidance, what we seek is strength, and listening provides that strength by making us feel heard.
Lastly, Role Model.
if a parent consistently displays extreme insecurity and openly communicates low self-confidence within the family, the adolescent internalizes this behaviour and replicates it in their daily life. Consequently, they become more susceptible to stress when confronted with teenage challenges, leading to a decline in their own self-confidence. This dynamic persists even if the parent is present, actively listens, and engages in discussions about self-confidence. Adolescents primarily learn from the actions of their parents, not just their words. You must role model confidence, empathy, independence: the important traits that will help them get through adolescence.
The adolescents of today are forced to deal with issues and problems that have never been dealt with before. They are the generation that needs to tide the wave of technology, the first and youngest generation to be raised in the digital age. And it comes with its problems.
However, the adolescents of today want to change the world. They are creative, they are informed, they are passionate. They have immense potential. What we need is your support to unlock this potential. Even if you don’t understand our issues, recognise, and respect them. Parent us in a way that empowers us instead of belittles us.