Adolescence can be trying times for parents, children

Adolescence is often viewed as a time when children regularly push their parents’ patience to the limits. However, the trials and tribulations of a mother and father may be outweighed by the drastic life changes the teenagers themselves face, and parents should bear this in mind, says WUSM physician Katie Plax in the following St. Louis Post-Dispatch article.

Parents, remember: Adolescence isn’t easy on your kids, either

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran in the Health & Fitness section on Monday, April 148, 2005)

By Dr. Katie Plax

As your 13-year-old slips into a meltdown about a pimple on her chin, your teenage son insists everyone’s curfew is 2 a.m., and then your 17-year-old daughter walks in the door with pink hair and a nose ring.

At this point, you have no idea how you’re ever going to survive your kids’ adolescence.

Balancing independence and rules can be tough for parents with teenagers.
Balancing independence and rules can be tough for parents with teenagers.

The best way to deal with this potentially challenging time is to be flexible – and expect to be tested. During adolescence, kids are really pushing for their independence and trying to establish their own identities. It’s so important to remember that this is a time of serious change for them.

We gain 50 percent of adult weight and 20 percent of adult height while going through puberty. With so many physical and emotional changes happening at the same time, children can seem different from day to day, and parents need to be prepared for this change. Be ready to listen when they need you.

For most teens, becoming independent means testing the rules. Try to establish rules that are fair and consistent, and discuss why they’re necessary. Decide which rules are negotiable and which aren’t. Then, clearly outline rewards for following rules, as well as consequences for breaking them.

When rules are broken, avoid acting in the heat of the moment. Take time to calm down so everyone can think more clearly and come to a decision that’s fair.

Realize that the severity of punishment does not equal change in behavior. In fact, most of us respond best to positive reinforcement, so when your children are doing things you like or appreciate, let them know.

To open communication lines, try to learn what is going on in your adolescent’s life – know his friends and his friends’ parents. Try to find alone time with your child to stay connected, which may even be the ride home from basketball practice.

Think about the things you do with your teen that are fun, and then do them again and again. Try to keep your sense of humor. And remember that adolescence doesn’t last forever.

By all means, do not feel as if you have to go it alone. Parents have key allies in coaches, pastors, friends and other family members.

Communication do’s

  • Listen; don’t interrupt.
  • Respect the adolescent’s opinion.
  • Make time and get rid of distractions.
  • Speak as an equal; don’t condescend.
  • Be honest and admit when you’re wrong.
  • Respect privacy.

Communication don’ts

  • Open the conversation with a critical comment.
  • Lecture or moralize.
  • Minimize a problem.
  • Make a comparison to other siblings or adolescents.
  • Solve problems for your child.
  • Overreact. (“You did what?”)
  • Yell.

Dr. Katie Plax is a Washington University physician and is the interim director of the Adolescent Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Copyright 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.