Dealing with turmoil of teenage years

A new book, Teenagers Translated, aims to help parents deal with the emotional rollercoaster of life with adolescents. Lisa Salmon reports

THE turmoil of the teenage years can turn homes into battlefields and parents and teenagers into enemies.

But it doesn't have to be that way, promise counsellors Janey Downshire and Naella Grew. The pair have combined their knowledge from running workshops for teenagers and parents, with hands-on experience of bringing up seven children between them, to write a book to help parents understand what their teens are going through, and how to deal with them.

The book, Teenagers Translated, explains that a huge amount of brain restructuring occurs during the teenage years and this, together with emotions and biochemistry, causes the typical erratic teenage behaviour.

But rather than parents taking the fatalistic view that they simply have to put up with teenage tantrums, angst and rudeness, Downshire and Grew point out that as the effect of nature and nurture on a teen's behaviour is 50/50, this means that "with patience and persistence, we as parents can make changes to behaviours and even influence how our teenager's brain and personality develop".

A key part of doing this is in the way parents communicate and respond to their teenagers, whether they're having a meltdown or simply asking for something. "As they get older, the way of talking to children needs to shift quite a lot," explains Grew. "Instead of being dogmatic, it needs to move in the direction of a conversation between two equals. "The way you achieve that is by explaining things, and being as clear as you can about your thinking and reasoning. "That tends to get much more compliance and cooperation. If you go in with a very heavy-handed, dogmatic way of communicating, that seems to elicit a rebellious response."

Downshire says parents get hooked into teenagers' sensitive, emotional and volatile behaviour themselves, and situations then escalate into confrontation. "When parents understand they as adults need to keep things calm and anchored, that helps the child because they're learning how to behave and communicate via us, their parents."

Parents need to understand that young people need to separate from their parents and we should let them go, albeit gradually if they prefer.

Downshire and Grew explain that this separation still means there have to be boundaries relating to acceptable behaviour, and Grew stresses: "Possibly the worst mistake parents can make with teenagers is to be too lax with boundaries, when they should actually be quite firm about setting out whatever parameters they feel are important. "What tends to happen is either they're too firm, so it's a draconian environment, or they're too lax, so they confuse boundaries with a power situation, when what really needs to be there are firm, clear, objective boundaries that the child understands and the parent polices."

* READY FOR BATTLE: Emotions and biochemistry cause erratic teenage behaviour

* continues overleaf


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