Appreciate adolescence

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Parenting columnist Ian Munro sums up adolescence.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
Last week, I shared Anna Freud’s comment about how teenagers will be "more idealistic, artistic, generous and unselfish than ever again, but also the opposite: self-centred, egotistic, calculating".

Moving from my butterfly-emerging-from-the-chrysalis analogy to one about the tide, you could describe teenage moods as similar to the waves going in and out - at one moment reasonable, the next argumentative; accepting of responsibility, then wanting to be looked after like a child.

And, just as the tide’s progress up the beach is unstoppable despite the in-and-out movement of the waves, so our teenager moves slowly and unstoppably forwards.

We just need to be aware of the riptides that can catch us unexpectedly and drag us quickly out of our depth.

It pays to remember the rules about what to do when caught in rips or strong currents: Don’t fight them as you’ll exhaust yourself and eventually go under. Go with the flow, gently working your way towards the edge until you get out of it or your feet touch the bottom.

Pick the safe moments to make progress. Non-stop confrontation will seldom do more than make life miserable for all. Save it for serious matters. Pick your battles.

Recognise what’s going on inside. We need to stand our ground but trying to do it calmly and with a little humour. Even agree with them. Often, when a row can’t be provoked over the sort of petty things that so often cause them, the problem evaporates.

There’s little point in our constantly asking, "What’s the matter with you?", "What’s got into you?". They don’t know, but we do - they’re growing up.

Equally, saying that we know how they feel, "I was a teenager once too, you know," won’t help. They don’t want to be like us. Far from it, they want to be as different as possible, to establish their own identities.

We may have to tolerate certain behaviours, but it doesn’t mean that we have to accept them. Our point of view is best put at quieter moments in the ebb and flow.

The road to adulthood isn’t getting easier. During this struggle to emerge from the chrysalis of childhood, they also have to cope with our expectations, society’s expectations and educational commitments that can be quite heavy.

Therefore, it is important to take time to stand back a little and appreciate the young adult blossoming in our home.

They need great dollops of our understanding, guidance and boundaries and the space to make mistakes and learn to take responsibility for them, and the space to make more and more decisions about their lives.

Our job is to keep them safe.



Some oppositional defiance is a way to find personal values. A liberal parent with scatological vocabulary may prompt a young person to join a Church.

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