Enjoying Our Teenagers
“The two most difficult times of life are when we are a teenager and when we have a teenager!” – A Mother of Three Teens
Most parents are convinced they are in for a tumultuous time the day their sons or daughters become teenagers. Many describe the teenager years as a period of near-insanity as children seem to lose their rationality, become stubborn, irresponsible, rebellious and cause their parents unrelenting misery. Many parents are also not prepared and equipped to respond to their teenager’s emotional ups and downs. They are used to having a child that was cheerful, fun-loving and agreeable, and suddenly now they are faced with one who is cheerless, always sulking, bad-tempered and seems to want to challenge everything we say, or worse, becoming glum, moody or sullen and not talking at all.
This relationship is made more complicated by our own season of life—by the time our children reach their teens, most of us parents are also approaching middle age or are well within it, and struggling with our own mid-life crises. However, parenting teenagers can be a rich, rewarding and most enjoyable experience, if we learn the skills and are equipped to relate to our children.
Teen-age is a season of traumatic transition; our children are passing through a season of dramatic physical and emotional changes that require major adjustments in the way they think about themselves and others. They are entering into a new phase of life in which they must learn to accept greater responsibility for their own lives and future. Adding to the complication, they also need to come to grips with their maturing sexuality, where they become more aware of their physical distinctiveness from the opposite sex. Each of these changes can create a fear of the unknown. Taken together, this can be overwhelming, confusing or discouraging, resulting in years that are often punctuated with alternating periods of excitement, depression, apprehension, discouragement, jealousy and irritation.
Reasons for Rebellion & Stubbornness
Teen-age is the season when our children are just about ready to grow out of their childhood dependency and establish their own identities to become independent adults; to move away from us and start thinking for themselves.
For years, they have been told what to do, what to wear, what to study or when and what to eat. In reality, being stubborn and refusing to cooperate is their way of saying “I can think for myself. I don’t have to do it your way. Stop treating me like a child”. Unfortunately, most of them are not able to express their needs rationally and calmly. Instead, emotions get in the way as they lose their temper.
It seems that until our sons and daughters can disagree with us, they cannot feel adult or independent. Thus, our role is to help them find acceptable ways of expressing their opinions, while accepting the rude truth that disagreeing with us is an entirely normal and necessary step on their pathway to maturity.
In their effort to become more independent and mature, often teenagers will put a certain amount of emotional distance between their parents and themselves. Physiologically, they are gradually turning away from us as parents as their main source of love, security and comfort in order to prepare themselves for loving adult relationship with others. This also means no longer relying on us as their parents to be the authority figures who set moral standards so as to form their own values and commitments. For some, this may manifest in teenagers wanting to set their own hours and do what they please, hence, challenging curfews set by their parents.
Most teenagers need to struggle a little to bid farewell to childhood. In the process, they may go through some regressive periods when they exhibit some very childlike behaviour, and swing from one extreme to another: becoming stubbornly independent one minute and incredibly dependent the next; one moment they love you and the next they seem to hate you. And they often want to spend time with their friends or rather be left alone, but when they need you, they really need you. They may feel abandoned or depressed and lose confidence if we are unavailable as an unchanging source of encouragement and support.
Many teenagers struggle with low esteem. They usually feel their parents don’t really know or understand them. Many parents want their children to fulfil their expectations and thus are very sensitive to their children’s performance, but aren’t sensitive enough to and involved in their children’s emotional lives. This gives the child a very confusing message. From all appearances the parents seem very kind and loving, but at an unspoken level, the child senses his parents’ lack of genuine emotional availability and involvement in their life.
A significant number of teens use pleasure to escape and numb these pains. Frantically, they party, use alcohol, drugs or sexual pleasure to ward off the underlying feelings of depression and inner emptiness. And some use the ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude to mask their corrosive suffering. We always use pain or pleasure to medicate the deepest hurts in our emotions.
Teen-age is the season when children break out of their relatively quiet and stable childhood years. Their bodies are changing, their minds are changing. Their schools and friends are changing and their emotions are changing. Nearly everything is in a state of flux. In short, they are entering the most unsettling and revolutionary years of their lives. In the middle of these shifting worlds, they need a bearing, a stable anchor. They need relatively calm and organised parents and a family that can provide stability to balance their emotional expression and control. As parents, we should try to provide all the encouragement, understanding and stability we can in this season of their life.
Parents whose own schedules are irregular or whose lives are filled with excessive pressure or confusion will compound their teenager’s emotional imbalance and hypersensitivity. This is often the cycle of struggle for most parents with their teenagers. First, teenagers develop some assertive or upsetting behaviour. Next, the parents fail to understand the significance behind these behaviours, and fail to give them the emotional support and encouragement they need. And finally, things start to deteriorate into repeated conflicts as the teenager feels misunderstood and react with greater negativity or give up and try to find their own way or turn to their peers for support and understanding. Regrettably, some end up with bad company or wrong influences and grow to be more and more rebellious. This often creates a deep chasm between parents and the adolescent.
If only parents can accept these behaviours as a temporal psychological process necessary in the growing up years, and provide the emotional support needed to relieve our children’s pain and anger, this would facilitate their maturing so much better.
If we have been used to giving advice, setting limits and enforcing rules, we must accept the fact that we can no longer control many of their actions. Parents at this stage should play the role of a coach and friend rather than a dictator. Our goal is to love and support them in ways that foster the maturing. We must recognise that our children still need us but in a different way—our roles should evolve and grow as our children do.
Enjoying their growth
Most teenagers are interesting, entertaining and even funny. Their lives are filled with drama and challenges. It is very rewarding to see them tackle new challenges and learn to feel more like competent men and women; growing up and assuming their role in adult society.
Watching a child leave childhood and growing in maturity in their teenage age years is like watching a beautiful butterfly coming out of its cocoon. It is great to see how we can now develop deeper and more mature friendships with them when they begin to share more important concerns about their lives. For us Christian parents, it’s even more assuring to see them mature spiritually and make their childhood faith their own. These are very rewarding and fulfilling times that should bring great joy to us as parents.
Since teens are in the process of growing into adulthood, they need a lot of encouragement and support. We should be helping them to grow up from their childhood dependency. If they can sense our happiness over their new experiences, it would help them to develop a happier and more optimistic attitude towards life. Simple things like letting them stay up later, letting them go places with their friends, asking for their input on decision when making more important purchases like a car or furniture would made them feel that you respect them and their decision making ability.
“Helicopter parents” are overprotective parents who hover over their children. This unhealthy interference actually discourages children from being independent and taking responsibility for their own lives. In the long run, they would not be able to make decisions for themselves. Guidance means showing the way without taking over the task. It is important to allow mistakes (not the dangerous kind though) to happen. Children need to learn from their mistakes.
The more we trust and take pleasure in our teenager’s activities, the better they will feel about themselves. Teenagers whose parents have difficulty enjoying their activities can grow up feeling isolated and unable to relax and enjoy life. For that reason, many grow into adults that are unable to feel good about their successes. These high achievers feel that their accomplishments are insufficient to satisfy their parents or merit enjoyment. Some develop a workaholic lifestyle that focus on winning or achieving but never on enjoying life. Unconsciously, they are trying to live up to their parents’ expectations and get the affirmation that they did not receive during their teenage years. Teenagers need a lot of our affirmation to grow up into healthy adults.
Sharing our own experiences or struggles with our children is one of the best ways of helping our teens cope with their struggles. It will encourage them to share with us more freely and let them know that they can trust us because we can empathize with their situation. They can take comfort to see that a troubled teen can become a successful adult.
To put it simply, it is to let our teenagers know their conflicts are normal and that mom and dad survived some similar experiences. This erects a bridge of understanding that helps our teenagers cross more confidently into adulthood.
There are four important steps process of becoming a healthy mature adult:
A) Healthy attachment
B) Gradual separation
C) Developing one’s own individuality
D) Establishing one’s stable identity
As infants, children have very little awareness of the world around them. They spend most of their time eating or sleeping. However, during this stage, the presence of the loving maternal contact gives them a great calming influence as infants equate their mothers’ presence with safety, nourishment and care. Infancy is the root to intimacy.
During this time, their emotional lives are closely bound up with their attachment to their mother. If the mother is tense, anxious, angry or sad, they tend to experience the same irritation. On the other hand, if the mother is calm and relaxed, the baby is usually more composed.
Our children’s success in coping with both adolescence and adulthood will be greatly influenced by the quality of attachment they experience during their early months of life. Infants who are attached healthily to happy mothers are more likely to feel comfortable with others, to trust and to establish meaningful relationships because they have a foundation for emotional closeness. They are also more resilient to problems in life due to the strong foundation of emotional bonding in their early childhood development.
Problems in bonding securely to the mother can make it more difficult to relate securely to others in the future. Children who fail to bond securely to their mothers during their early years are likely to struggle with close relationship later in their teenage and adult years as they do not know how to build true and deep intimacy with others.
Some become antisocial; others grow up seeking endlessly for someone to cling to or worse, some seek through a series of sexual partners in order to fill their inner emotional void for true intimacy. Emotional deficiencies often make us vulnerable and causes distorted personality development in their teenage and adult years, like insecurity, inferiority, immorality, addiction, compulsive behaviour, eating and mental disorder, etc. For some, they are unable to develop healthy relationships, and once they find someone, they become so possessive, clinging or demanding that they suffocate or frighten the other party away. When they start dating, the relationship tends to get very intense quickly as they are desperately seeking for attachment to fill the deep emotional void.
Children must be loved and nurtured for many years in order to grow up and become healthy adults. Their close attachment with their parents provides the safety and protection they need to grow healthy emotionally. Every stage of human development has one or more major tasks or challenges that are especially important for that particular period. Those needs or tasks must be met or finished in order for children to move successfully to the next level of maturity.
Each successful navigated stage prepares them to enter confidently into the next stage of development. Each failure to develop the inner resource needed at a particular stage will make future adjustment that much more difficult.
We must fill up their emotional love tank by building happy relationships in the impressionable years just prior to adolescence so that they have the inner resources for the journey through adolescence that lies ahead. Everything we want to do for our teenagers will depend on how loved and understanding they feel by us. As our personality is formed in the first six to seven years of our lives, any traumatic experience during this period of our childhood can adversely affect our personality development. Many associated pain, shame, fear and guilt is often locked up in recesses of our subconscious during this period.
Lamentably, many modern parents sacrifice this important growth process for career or the pursuit of a higher standard of living, sending their children to childcare centres or leaving their care to grandparents or domestic helpers. Although some may receive good physical and mental care in good childcare centres, they will always lack a stable parental figure to which they can attach to securely. Many children’s earliest need for bonding are never met, and hence they grow into emotionally weak teenagers, with their feelings easily hurt, getting jealous or envious and developing resentment and bitterness easily.
Gradual Separation -Stay Available and Connected
Some parents assume that because their teenagers are so busy with their own activities and friends, they don’t need their parents anymore and start neglecting them. That could be a fatal mistake. Teenagers face many challenges – academic stress, peer pressure, dating troubles, uncertainties of the future, etc. They need our availability and listening ears to reassure them in the overwhelming world.
Hence, occasionally, they still need an adult perspective. Keep listening and do not shut them off. However, we need to be sensitive and non-intrusive. Don’t pressure them into disclosing more than they desire. We need to be optimally present, sensitively available – present yet invisible, that is, keeping the right degree of psychological closeness.
We should listen to help them to clarify their thoughts; help them to identify their strengths and weaknesses yet at the same time encourage them to think for themselves and build confidence in their decision-making skills. Most importantly, offer advice only as opinion but not as a settled fact as they will tend to rebel if they feel that we are too controlling as they are trying to form their identities.
They wanted our interest and attention but also need space to feel adult. They want their parents in the background, and yet they want them readily available. They feel disappointed if they return to an empty house. One study found that teenagers were more depressed, engaged in more solitary drinking of alcohol and were more sexually active at an earlier age than teenagers who had a parent at home when they returned home. They need our affirmation of their successes and want us to share in their excitement and accomplishments.
Parenting teenagers is about finding a balance between loving availability and respectful distance. Our teenagers need us to be available for laughing and relaxing and also at times for serious talk. They need our availability to share in their victories and success and also our consolation and encouragement when things get tough. However, at the same time, they also need the freedom to develop their own identity towards their own adulthood. They need a solid support base to reach out to the adult world and find their security in us as their parents.
Much teenage rebellion is because they feel emotionally abandoned. Many parents assume that their love is deeply embedded in the mind of their teenagers thus fail to communicate it enough to meet their needs. Even though their parents love them, they inwardly feel uncared for. Psychologists call this abandonment rage. Many teenage parents are physically present, but emotionally unavailable, they are passive and uninvolved in their child daily activities. Hence, their child may be loved but they don’t feel loved in a practical way in their daily life. Teenagers must be able to communicate freely with their mums and dads. They need a deep feeling of belonging and being loved. Their emotional love tank needs to be full to equip them for the rough teenage journey.
Some teenagers who don’t experience enough parental support develop dependant or depressive lifestyles. They withdraw from most social activities with their peers so they can stick as close as possible to a parent or adult friend. Thus, they miss out on developing healthy peer relationships. Others who feel emotionally abandoned turn to sexual promiscuity or drugs or alcohol for consolation. Their premature disconnection from parental nourishment leaves them with an unquenchable hunger for love, which they try to satisfy or escape through sexual unhealthy vices. Grievously, human beings always use pain to medicate pain in a disastrous vicious cycle.
Developing one’s own individuality & Establishing one’s stable identity - Listening
If parents give a lot of advice but aren’t sensitive listeners, children may feel that their parents only care about their successes and wonder if they are truly concerned about their needs and value them as a person. Even though parents seem extremely involved in their children’s activities, their children can still feel isolated and unsupported if they sense that their parent’s interest in their achievements are more about vicarious living and their ego than genuine concern for their good. They may feel that their parents’ interest is selfish as many parents forced and shape their children to lives according to their own expectations.
Parents who are dissatisfied with their own achievements can try to live out their own wishes or goals through their children. They unknowingly push their children to fulfil their own dreams. This often makes children an extension of their parents and creates feelings of guilt and failure when they fail to live up to their parents’ expectations. They drive them incessantly to become doctors, lawyers or successful professionals. Some are pressured to take over the family business. They shape their emotional decisions and choice of vocation instead of allowing them a choice to discover their own unique gifts or interests.
Fearful of losing their parent’s approval, children often conform and avoid all confrontation with their parents, thus distorting their own personalities. They develop a false sense of identity instead of becoming the unique individuals God created them to be.
These children may function very well on the outside – in fact, they may be leaders in their schools or churches, but sadly, they are neither fulfilled nor happy. They are like apples trees being forced to bear oranges. Everything they do runs against their innate, god given potential and gifts. That takes the enjoyment out of their life and turns their work into a boring routine. They may not be able to incorporate an intimate, loving side because these feelings are suppressed. Thus, the only option is to solidify their personality as a workaholic, to gain satisfaction through worldly success.
Regrettably, many of these people become prime candidates for midlife crises. They suddenly wake up in their forties and decide they want out of their jobs, life-styles, marriages, as if trying to turn back to recapture their lost youth. If we as parents are sensitive about letting our children develop their own individuality and establishing their stable identity through a healthy childhood, teen-age, and young adulthood, these tragedies can be avoided.
The apostle Paul gave a good antidote for avoiding this skewed identity formation. In 1Cor.12:12-27, he pointed out that the church, like a human body, has many different parts or members. Each member of the church should develop and use his or her own gifts, not try to become like someone else. In fact, he put it in a humorous way: “if the whole body uses the eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?”
God created us with different abilities and interests. Our task as parents is to help our children identify their unique capabilities and to support them in fulfilling their own unique potential, not try to shape them into our image. They must have the freedom and be allowed these opportunities to grow so that they can both fulfil their god given potential and best find their niche in society.
Distorted Personality Development
Many teenagers are also being forced to grow up too quickly. The increase in two working parents and single parent families means many teenagers come home to an empty house, with no emotional or healthy attachment and connection. They have less parental role models and guidance and more unsupervised time and social freedom.
Many modern parents are too busy to get involved in their children’s daily lives, too anxious to listen patiently, too preoccupied to draw out their feelings, too desirous and too domineering, wanting to see them grow up in predetermined ways instead of maturing them to live up to their own dreams.
Teenagers today face far greater pressures at much earlier ages than their counterparts of a generation or two ago. They also lose their childhood innocence much earlier due to media and technology. The combination of increased external pressure and decreased support at earlier ages forces many teenagers to grow up without the necessary emotional resources.
Although they may look adult on the outside, inwardly they are empty and the child in them never grows. They are highly competent but deeply insecure. They are like empty beautiful decorative Easter egg shells. Though they look wonderful, they are actually very fragile and unsettled. Many have learnt to create a strong self-reliant exterior to mask their inner needs. These teens lack an inner sense of solidity and strength and personal identity. Some suffer lasting feeling of loneliness and isolation and become vulnerable to stress and pressures and are more likely to turn to various forms of escapism like alcohol, drugs or promiscuous sexuality. Feeling anchorless and unappreciated, they latch on to anyone or anything that seems to be able to fulfil their needs. Instead of gradually growing out of their dependency, they have simply transferred them to their addiction. They become vulnerable and develop poor prospects for establishing healthy, intimate relationship with a marriage partner and later with their children. Others develop a pattern of toughness or irresponsibility or worse, some may tragically turn to suicide, the ultimate effort to escape.
We can have the best education money can buy, but no amount of money or education, or friends can replace the loving nourishment of parents as God has intended. Teenagers with good supportive parents may still go through brief periods of rebellion or experimentation with alcohol or drugs. However, it is unlikely to last long or become embedded in their personalities as the root of rebellion and addiction is often emotional deficiencies.
Transition – Relationship in Infancy & Adolescence
As teenagers go through adolescence, we should expect some alternating times of calm and conflict. Each time they are given a new opportunity to separate themselves from us to become more independent, they may experience a surge of enthusiasm or excitement. However, they may also feel afraid or overwhelmed. Hence, they may temporarily turn back to the old ways they used to cope as children. They may pout or throw tantrums to get their way or express frustration. They may withdraw or retreat or want us to indulge or protect or comfort them the way we did when they were children. In other words, they regress to more childish levels of adjustment under the impact of new strains and stress. They rock back and forth between development stages.
However, if their childhood years are healthily developed and they have good attachment with their parents, by the time of their teenage years, it will help them greatly in their transition. Children who pass comfortably through the first decade of life bring a sense of inner strength to adolescence. If they have a secure attachment and bonded well with their parents in early childhood, they have a relatively stronger sense of their identity as separate people. They are more able to relate confidently to others. They aren’t hypersensitive to rejection and they don’t need to cling dependently to others to make up for earlier deprivation.
They are able to develop healthy close relationships with others and also intimacy with their spouses because they don’t fear being engulfed by an intrusive parent. We all need to be loved to be able to relate well with others lovingly. Thus, in the childhood years, they need to have taken in years of parental nurturing that produces an inner sense of being loved so that it will help them to relate intimately with others. Many adults are not able to relate intimately even with their spouse emotionally and spiritually because they were not nurtured in that manner. For that reason, their marriage often grows emotionally away with each other with passing years instead of deeper and closer.
If children fail to bond securely to their mothers in their early childhood years, or they grew up with mothers who were tense and anxious and suffered persistent parental over-control, they will have a more difficult time in their adolescence. Their social and dating relationships may turn into a tangle of crushes, hurts, idealizations, or resentments. They may be unprepared to say no in the face of peer influence because they have habitually followed others. They may be so fearful that they can’t fit comfortably among their peers. Or they may become stubborn or rebellious in order to cope with their fears of being overwhelmed by controlling people.
Loving, peaceful and happy experiences in early life are like money in the bank. Children who build up a good account of emotional currency will be able to draw on their account throughout their lives. Our years of love, our values and perspective will provide the framework and foundation for their attitudes, values and decisions in the teenage and adult years.
Reasons for rebellion
Three Psychological process of emotional growth for adolescents:
The argumentative stage happens as they try to prove that they are different from us and can think for themselves. Occasionally and subconsciously, they will wonder how they are different from their parents, from their friends, from the opposite sex and try to figure out their identity and whether their uniqueness is acceptable.
Anger often peaks at this age as they struggle with their conflicting desires to be independent while still being undeniably dependent on their parents. They often experience an emotional roller coaster and some become vulnerable to depression. When their desire to be independent predominates, they can deny all of their weaknesses and dependencies and be stubbornly independent. Yet because their adult feelings aren’t yet sufficiently settled, many blame their parents for their upsetting emotions. In the process they can turn parents into enemies blocking their path to maturity instead of friends wanting to help them on their way.
They need our help in establishing new relationships, learning to compete with their peers and testing out their feelings about their sexuality and their abilities to relate to opposite sex. If they know we support their efforts at growing up, they feel freer to keep moving on towards greater independence and maturity.
When our children were young, we seemed omnipotent and omniscient to them. We seemed so intelligent, powerful and wise. Their exalted view of us was comforting during their childhood years since they needed to bask in our strength and wisdom. In order for them to grow up as competent adults they have to make a major change in relating this picture of us to themselves. Their temporary grandiosity and narcissism and even negativism are ways of building a more adult image of themselves. They need a healthy separation from us emotionally to find their own distinct identity. Choosing their own clothes, friends, music, hobbies and the food are ways of saying “this is who I am”.
Increasing physical distance from parents is basically a process of disengaging from childhood dependencies. They often struggle with the dependency/independency crisis.
Question they often ask themselves:
- Can I stop relying so much on my parents
- Can I survive in the world without my parents
- Can I find people outside of my family to share my life?
We should give teenagers plenty of opportunity to express their own ideas and perspectives; appreciate their ideas and take them seriously; communicate respect and be careful not to put down their opinions or quench their independent thinking. Children with parents that make a lot of unilateral decisions or tend to be critical or controlling have a harder time developing self-confidence. They need a sense of competence to securely relate to the real world. Thus, they need to have stored multiple memories of small, successful steps on which they can build the foundational confidence and security to handle the adult world.
Remember, though teenagers want increased independence, they still need our emotional refuelling. They return when they are feeling lonely or frightened. If we aren’t available when they come back for reassurance, they will feel abandoned and cut off from the support they need.
c) Integration and Consolidation
The teenage years are the period where our children are pulling together all the physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual growth. This is the most chaotic and confusing time of their lives as this is a process of forming their own identities, and growing into a relatively stable and enduring personality of their own. They are trying out adult attitudes and actions but like vastly oversized clothes, they find they don’t quite fit.
Children and teens who feel that they can never please their parents or teenagers whose parents make them feel guilty for thinking their own thoughts or doing things their own ways have special difficulties growing away from their “inner parents”. They may struggle for years to throw off these inner doubts.
Our effectiveness in parenting will depend as much on our sensitivity to our own feeling as to that of our children. If we are irritated or upset by our teenagers’ need to argue or challenge, they may have a more difficult time in the growth process of separating from us. Our teenagers will find it easier to become less dependent on their inner memories of us if they know we love them just the way they are. They can walk away from childhood with the picture of an approving parent who has confidence in their abilities to make good decisions to enjoy and to cope responsibly with life. This will help to free teenagers to become what God intended them to be.
Negativism & Narcissism
The emotions of teenagers are especially volatile, unpredictable and must be treated sensitively. They need the space to be different from us. At times, they may just want to be left alone for a while or allowed to wade through their negative emotions without our interruption or advice. They wanted to work out their thoughts and emotions according to their schedules and time. Even our best efforts of offering consolation are met with curt remarks like “Just leave me alone!” or “I don’t want to talk about it!”
In this stage of their growth process, they can be quite narcissistic, that is, they can be totally absorbed in their own world and oblivious to the consequences of their actions. They can also be extremely sensitive or selfish, especially of their privacy. During this period, some teenagers can almost seem to forget that their parents exist. They are on the go, spending time with their friends and exploring their world, almost oblivious to us.
Survey on teenagers revealed their three greatest worries: grades, looks and popularity. This is the major developmental challenge facing teenagers. The radical changes in teens’ minds and bodies force them to revaluate their self-image.
During childhood, attitudes towards themselves were based largely on their relationship with us. Our love and training laid the foundation for their self-esteem. Teenagers who have poor self-esteem are especially vulnerable. If they compare themselves unfavourably to their peers, it can trigger the feeling of inferiority and self-hatred and cause them to be discouraged or depressed.
This is especially true for girls who never received the attention they need from their fathers. They may welcome the attention of boys with undue eagerness long before they are emotionally mature enough to handle it. As soon as they date, they start getting deeply involved physically or emotionally in a vain effort to fill the void caused by an absent father.
Teenagers begin to step away emotionally from us and shift their attachment to their friends. This shifting of relationship explains why peer pressure can be so overwhelming. If their friends don’t constantly reassure them of their belonging or worth, they may become extremely jealous, hurt and angry. They seek out intense friendships and spend hours together exploring and sharing secrets. Many parents feel abandoned as their teenagers turn increasingly towards their friends. However, we should be sensitive and not criticize their friends or we may end up shutting them out completely.
If our children have successfully passed the developments stages of early and middle adolescence, our children will enter young adulthood relatively settled and secure emotionally and are more equipped and confident to face the real world. It will also help them to develop lasting, deep and loving commitment to a member of the opposite sex.
Today, sex is used to sell everything from fashion and phones to cars and property. We are living in a culturally over sexualized society. If our children are to be escorted safely through the jungle of immorality in our society, as parents, we need to be vigilant and consecrated in teaching and modelling Christian virtues.
From a child’s early years, sexual body parts such as the penis, vagina and breasts should be referred to as naturally as hands, nose and ears are. Our children should be encouraged to ask questions about their bodies by our attitude of openness. Our attitude towards sexuality and the quality of our relationship with our teenagers are very vitally important in sex education. As puberty approaches, they need more explicit information. We should lookout for teachable moments when they ask spontaneous questions or exhibit curiosity.
We must be comfortable with our own sexuality and communicate openly with our children while they are growing up. If they ask why we are taking contraception pills or come across a supply of condoms, the best response is openness - “We’re not planning to have children now.” And depending on their age, explain honestly to them in an appropriate way rather than shun their questions.
Some parents fear that by talking to their teens about sex and birth control will encourage them to act on their sexual urges. Just the opposite is true. Adolescents who don’t understand their sexuality are more likely to experiment in order to satisfy their curiosity.
Teenagers need to know that absolutely no question is out of bounds. They should feel free to talk about anything that crosses their minds. And when they ask any questions, we should give direct answers that convey accurate information. If they want to know how we practice birth control or our view on homosexuality, pornography, answer them. These are good opportunities to address those concerns from a Christian worldview. They don’t need a sermon, but they do need a biblical perspective on their sexuality and insight from our own experience and convictions.
In order to get the message across that their sexuality is a gift from God, our teenagers will need continued affirmation of their developing sexuality. They need our approval of their increasing interest in the opposite sex. Pre-adolescents (about 10-12 years) still tend to spend most of their time in same sex groupings. These friendships are good and healthy as it helps to give them a source of love and support outside the home. Although they are beginning to become aware of the opposite sex and increasingly involved in mixed social interactions, their heterosexual interests are still limited. Boys especially prefer the company of their own sex as they are solidifying their masculine identities with their male friends though they may also begin to show interest in the opposite sex
However, during early adolescence (about 13-15 years), several changes will begin to take place in their social relationships. They begin to pay a lot more attention to the opposite sex, and unfortunately without proper guidance and nurturing, some begin dating and many unsupervised teens have their first sexual encounter at this age.
We need to treat them like budding adults, not little children. For them, dating is sign of maturity and another exciting mini passage on the road to adulthood. We need to be sensitive to any concerns and anxieties they may have. Don’t be too quick to be overly excited to talk about their dates, but don’t just sit back and be disinterested either. Let them take the lead to be prepared to give them as much interest as they need.
A healthy teen will develop healthy heterosexual relationships. During this period, they are also defining their own identities. These relationships, though not romantic, can expand our teenagers’ confidence and their ability to relate to others. Same sex friends remain important, but the level of interest in the opposite sex increases.
By 16-17 years of age, jealousy towards same sex friends is common as they complete for the attention of members of the opposite sex. Thus, many late teens show a sudden increase in their masculinity or femininity and take renewed interest in their looks and dress.
These are key psychological social developments that prepare children for healthy relationships with the opposite sex. If these developments have progressed smoothly, our teenagers should mature into adulthood with positive and realistic attitudes toward themselves and others. They will provide a solid foundation for relating meaningfully to the opposite sex and integrating their maturing sexuality into their total personalities.
Human sexuality is a powerful and beautiful God-given aspect of our lives. It grows out of our personalities and involves our bodies, our emotions, our relational abilities, our values and our spiritual commitments. Because of its complexity, sex is often subject to serious distortions and our teenagers need a lot of assistance integrating their sexuality into their lives. We can help by enabling them to learn to feel good about their sexuality, developing a positive attitudes and values about their sexuality and helping them set appropriate limits.
We can help by:
- Being open and direct in discussing sexuality
- Affirming their developing masculine and feminine identities
- Communicating positive attitudes and values about the human body and sexuality
- Being aware of their friends and setting some realistic limits on their activities
- Helping them learn to set limits on their physical expressions of affection
If we can offer godly understanding and support, we can help our teen’s journey be that much easier, safer and more enjoyable. We will also prepare them for the full expression of sexuality in marriage.
Manage our own Anxiety
As parents, there is always the fear that our sons and daughters will become prematurely sexually active. We are concerned and want them to avoid the pain that comes from sexual intimacy before marriage. But do not let our worry create more problems. Some of our anxieties can stem from our own guilt and shame.
We can end up setting unrealistic curfews or interrogating them so thoroughly after every date that it may actually push them toward premarital sexual intimacies out of implosive anger and rebellion, or cause them to shut us out entirely. On the other hand, we shouldn’t ignore the realities of sexual experimentation. It is naïve to think our sons and daughters are beyond temptation just because they are religiously committed. Sadly, the truth is that majority of even Christian adolescents and young adults will have sexual intercourse before they marry.
It is appropriate for teenagers to have an agreed time to return home and for us to know where and who they are with. Good boundaries help teenagers avoid making some bad decisions. Although our teenagers may not appreciate our limits at that time, they will sense our caring and accept them if they are appropriate and stem from adult wisdom—not excessive parental anxiety.
Being a virgin is no longer seen as a virtue when peer pressure to become sexually active is on the rise. The average teenager sees several thousand actual or implied acts of sex on media every year. Ninety per cent of those are outside of marriage and most of them are presented through brief encounters. It is a sad reality that in this world of instant gratification, not many movies or books will take the time and effort needed to display the beauty of sex in marriage or present the true length of time people need to build deep companionship and love.
God created us with sexual desire just as he created us with the appetite for food. All these desires need to be filled at the appropriate time and in appropriate ways. The problem comes when we attempt to satisfy our desires inappropriately or when they become an obsession.
Self-control and appropriate expression of desire is the biblical standard, whether it relates to food, money, work, exercise, or sexuality. We develop self-control when we feel good about ourselves and are emotionally healthy people. Teenagers who become obsessed with sex or masturbate compulsively, are like people who are obsessed with money or status or food—this usually points to deeper underlying problems.
Teenagers need to feel good about their sexual maturation and their bodies and be able to talk freely with their parents. They need to develop good attitudes towards themselves and the opposite sex. Some may feel so inferior and develop very negative attitudes to the opposite sex and become obsessed with masturbation as a private consolation.
By contrast, teenagers who feel good about themselves and have a good knowledge of human sexuality are not riddled with feelings of guilt or undue curiosity. Consequently, they are able to healthily integrate their sexual feelings into their developing personalities and not become sexuality preoccupied. If they have these attitudes and a clear biblical understanding of the meaning of sex and the need for some limits and self-control, they will be able to develop mature and appropriate boundaries for expressing their sexuality before marriage. These apply to both masturbation and their physical expression with the opposite sex.
All human abilities and attitudes and expressions of desire go through phrases of development. Children eat as children, play as children and talk like children and they grow in steps and with age. Teenage sexual desire should not be an exception to this rule. It is impossible for them to have no sexual interest until marriage. If that were the case, it would be the only area of human existence that didn’t go through a normal progression of development.
If we couple the complete biblical picture of sexuality with an understanding of normal human development, we can help our teenagers feel good about their developing sexuality, and not repress or totally deny their sexual desires.
In this rapidly dynamic changing world, many parents are bewildered and struggle to connect effectively with their children. On the other hand, teens are longing for parents who are willing to help them through the confusing maze of contemporary youth culture and lead them to a spiritually and emotionally healthy adulthood. We pray and hope that this article will be a blessing to many parents and help to close this widening generation gap so that we can all embrace the rich rewarding joy of parenting our teens.
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