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Where do I start as a parent of a teenager?

Arrière-plan

September 18, 2023 Parent-Child Relationship

Parents

Par Audrey Grenier-Turpin

Coordinator

Adolescence is a time of change, both for young people and for those who care about them. Although many people have strong feelings about the word "adolescence," is this really true? Let's explore the different facets of parenting a teenager.

What is adolescence?

Let's start with the basics. Adolescence is accompanied by a multitude of physical, psychological, and emotional changes, punctuated by a search for self-identity. 

While not every young person's journey is the same, adolescence is a period marked by change on many levels.

Your child will experiment with and challenge certain behaviors, test limits (including your own!), make decisions that may seem absurd to you, and more. The big question is, why?

Brain development

In adolescence, the brain, more specifically the prefrontal cortex, is not fully developed. It takes until the twenties to complete this stage. Surprise surprise, this famous cortex enables us to make informed decisions, better manage our emotions, and foresee the consequences of our actions, all towards the goal of developing a functional, complete person.

Hormonal changes, impulsiveness, and the prefrontal cortex under development mean that your teen will take risks without necessarily having assessed or understood the consequences of their actions.

The relationship stage

Adolescence is also the age when your child distances themselves from their immediate family unit. As they develop their autonomy, they'll want to create their own relationships in their own way.

What's more, in their eyes, it's the number of friends they have that counts, not the quality of those friendships. Remember those brain changes? Adolescents are egocentric by nature - it's THE time of their lives when they're self-centered and on a veritable quest for personal identity. They believe that the world revolves around them, and that their achievements, challenges, emotions, and experiences are the only ones that exist.

Although this phase can sometimes be daunting for those around them, the famous "who am I?" will develop through their experiences, friendships, relationships, failures, environment, learning, perceptions and more. In short, your teenager is a true sponge when it comes to their environment, for better or for worse.

Children discover the world around them, whereas teenagers gradually discover themselves.

Trust and communication

During this period of change, one of the things that can help you stay grounded is your relationship with your teenager. However, no parent-child relationship is perfect. 

On the other hand, if you have a relationship with your teenager where communication is sincere and there's a feeling of mutual trust, the relationship you've built up over the years won't magically disappear when they reach adolescence. A relationship established beforehand will make it easier for your teenager to come to you with questions or more difficult issues.

As a parent, you act like a lighthouse: even if your child wanders off a little and distances themselves from you, the light of the lighthouse will still be there, even in the fog, to guide them back.

Risky behavior

While some of the behaviors described above may seem unusual to you, it's important to be aware of certain distress signals that your teenager may be sending you, and that merit professional attention.

What's more, as parents, you may feel less comfortable talking to your teen about certain subjects, and that's normal. Here are a few behaviors that need to be addressed.

•    Your teenager is becoming more withdrawn, and this lasts over time, despite your attempts to communicate.

•    Your teen is using substances that worry you, and doesn't call you when they feel in danger.

•    Your teen reports distress, self-harm or suicidal ideation.

•    Your teenager behaves violently towards others (friends, siblings, parents, etc.).

In any case, you are in the best position to know and recognize your own child's signals. Although there are no instructions on how to raise a child, you've been building your own instructions since birth: trust yourself. Your best tool for guiding your child through adolescence is right now reading this article: it's you!

The saying "It takes a village to raise a child" doesn't stop with adolescence. If you need support, you're not alone. 

References
Changements du corps et remaniement psychique à l'adolescence
Le développement : adolescents pleins feux sur le cerveau
Guide à l’intention des parents d’adolescents
Les comportements à risque chez les adolescents