04-09-2020 04:22 PM
Ask a Child and Family Professional
Question: “My 14 & 15 year old boys are refusing to go to school it’s been happening since last year. The say nothing is wrong and they seem to have friends so I don’t know what’s the problem. And my 14 year old just recently got himself in trouble with the law so now I’m coming to a point where I don’t know what to do about any of it., please help. ”
Not knowing what is happening for your teens can leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed and not knowing where to turn. It can feel as though you can’t see the wood for the trees! But, if you pause, breathe and focus on 4 strategies, your next steps can become clearer.
Understanding what is happening developmentally for your teens can dramatically change the way you approach the situation. There are two important factors at play that can make our parenting job challenging. First, is their developmental need for more independence and to experiment with their identities, which can leave parents feeling baffled when their teen suddenly begins doing things they have never done before. At the same time, their brain development is accelerating, just not in the way you would hope! Teen’s brains are laying down billions of new neurons in preparation for adulthood - so many in fact that their cognitive (thinking) brain needs to shut for renovations and is rerouted through their emotional (feeling) brain. When this happens, they base decisions on what feels good, rather than what is good…which can lead to poor choices and potentially increased risk-taking. It is easy for adults to judge, but we know what this feels like when we reach for fast food over the healthy salad. We need to arm ourselves with compassion and be prepared for them to get it wrong as they navigate this tricky time.
Your teens are on the verge of adulthood and your parenting role has shifted from control (when they were little) and is now leaning toward influence. To influence though, you need to connect… which can be tricky with teenagers. Although your teens are pulling way from you right now, they need you more than ever, so it’s important to find ways to connect no matter how small – inquire about their music, ask them to teach you how to play a computer game, order their favourite pizza … connect on their level, not yours. Remember, every small moment of connection shows your teens you are there for them and provides an opportunity for them to open up and talk, so be ready.
It is never more important than now to keep the lines of communication open with your teens. Ultimately, you want them to come to you when they have make mistakes or need help, so ask yourself, am I encouraging them to talk or clam shut? To answer this, examine not only how you speak, but also how you listen and the unspoken messages they receive. Am I listening more than I am speaking? Am I validating their feelings but rejecting the behaviour? When things get heated, am I sharing my calm, not joining their chaos? It is tempting to want to jump in and solve all of their problems, but when we listen to their concerns and help them to find their own solutions, rather than try to fix; we support them to practice important skills they will need as adults.
Even though your teens are developmentally wired to be pulling away from you, there are many ways you can build safety and support around them. Is there an adult in their lives they trust and respect who could help? Mentors are invaluable to boys, whether it be a relative, neighbour, teacher or coach – someone besides you who they can talk with if needed. Establish a close link with their school and ask for support – two heads are better than one when it comes to ideas and your teens will hear consistent messages. To build safety, help your teens to identify a responsible adult they can call in case they need immediate support. You may not be able to control what they do, but you can help them plan ways to keep themselves safe, which is all part of being an adult.
If you would like support in clarifying a goal, problem solving and identify next steps... register for one-on-one support at https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society
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