From teen to adult

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
One of the key tasks of a teenager is to develop, and eventually take on, their adult identity, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Muro
Ian Muro
You possibly gained some interesting insights about this over the past month, given the enforced time spent in close proximity. Hopefully, you’ve noted some positives — things that might have gone unnoticed in the normal scheme of things when they would probably have spent more time away from the family bubble than within it.

There are many aspects to this task of developing an adult identity. Key among them are the need to know that you matter; that you’re important to someone; that what you do is valued; and that you’re regarded as a responsible person who can be trusted.

It’s not an easy journey and some of us might struggle all our lives and feel that we’ve never quite made it.

It’s over to us as parents to help our kids with this and, for once, it’s something we actually can help with.

For example, we can actively assist our youngsters in learning how to solve their problems but not by rescuing them or by ignoring them. When we rescue them they never learn the skills they need to cope and will always feel out of their depth.

Ignoring them sends a signal that their problems are of no importance and, therefore, that they’re of no importance. They’ll then need to look somewhere else to feel valued — a gang, perhaps, or a lifelong series of ineffectual relationships. Or to fortify themselves with alcohol or other drugs to block their feelings of inadequacy.

From an early age start giving them age appropriate domestic responsibilities. As they hit their teens seek their opinion or suggestions. This will give them some investment in daily family life. Give reasons if the decision goes another way. This helps develop their skills in negotiation and in understanding and accepting compromise.

Kick off some discussions to allow them to express their ideas and opinions, to argue their point and to learn how to do so acceptably.

Don’t dismiss or rubbish an opinion. Their thoughts do matter. The art of learning to agree to disagree can be taught here.

Acknowledge their strengths and good points and a significant job well done. And tell them. They need to know and will appreciate it even if they sometimes don’t show it.

Treat them with respect at home and in front of others, particularly in front of their friends.

Put-downs to raise a laugh can have a detrimental effect on how they think their friends might see them, how they see themselves and how they think you see them. Parental put-downs can be the most devastating barrier to gaining a sense of adult adequacy.


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