Having met and been inspired by Kitty, journalist Lucy Cavendish, mother of four, asked Kitty to help her hone her parenting skills with her teenage son Raymond. You can read about their time together in a piece that was published in the Times (no link) Weekend section on the 5th November. Lucy reveals what she learnt, and there’s a great precis of Kitty’s advice on how to be a good parent during the teenage years. Lucy and Raymond are both open about the challenges that have arisen for them both and I think many adults and teenagers will recognize themselves in this story. Thank you Kitty.
When my children were young I used to think ahead to the time they would be teenage and bigger and taller than me. It was an incentive to work out how to parent them well enough and feel confident in the role so size would not matter. On reflection, I may have thought like this because I remember the day my brother became stronger than me and the option of sitting on him to get what I wanted was no longer viable! I know lots of other siblings whose relationships changed when they grew older and stronger. My eldest is now a teenager and his brother will join him there next year. Fortunately as they have grown so have I, slightly round the middle but generally in confidence in my role as their mother.
Research shows that the parenting that a child receives from conception, and even, as Harriet mentioned in the previous blog, from our ancestors, affects how well they are able to adapt as they grow. This is not to say that repair cannot be made at any stage; repair can be very effective in the teenage years.
It used to be thought that teenagers did not want anything to do with their parents and the adolescent stage was a time that parents ‘lost’ their children. This, however, does not seem to be true in practice. Teenagers can and do want to be in contact with their parents and in fact do better when they are. It may be a challenge, but the ideal is for the parents to be very ‘grown up’ and manage their own emotions carefully, so that it’s possible to meet a teenager’s grumpy or confrontational mood with equanimity. It may help to know that the adolescent brain is going through an intense phase of rewiring and their ability to manage their own emotional responses is not in tip top form. It’s human nature to mirror one another’s moods; but when parents do this it can quickly lead to a snarling match or a mutual sulk. With some insights into what is going on in both the adult and the adolescent brain, and a few techniques allowing the parent to step back and stay calm, clashes or difficulties with teens can present wonderful opportunities for growth and deepening the parent-child bond.
Kitty and I were looking at the similarities and differences between teenagers and toddlers. Both age groups tend to push their parents’ buttons. Both are learning to regulate their own systems. For the toddler, the parent creates a bridge as the brain develops in maturity allowing them bit by bit to manage their emotions for themselves. The teenage brain, along with altering hormones and rapid physical growth, is going through a dynamic change of its own, turning from an “A” road into a Motorway. The brain goes through a period of pruning, losing the bits the teenager does not use to make it more energy efficient, emotionally responsive and speedier, and this adds a vulnerability to the teenage years. The emotional area of the brain is not as tuned in as it was, they are prone to taking risks, because they are less able, neurologically, to consider consequences, and they’re prone to seeking rewards through drugs and alcohol. It’s also hard for a teenager to fall asleep early as melatonin kicks in later than it did, and it’s also harder for them to wake early. They are navigating a myriad of new relationships and combinations of relationships. How well they manage this is important as it sets the stage for their adult life.
We as the adults have a chance, given the wealth of information now available to us, to develop skills that allow us to respond with interest and curiosity, as we discover how our unique child sees the world, and respond with reason and calmness if it seems out of kilter. Many problems arise when parents are reluctant to allow their teen the freedom to make their own decisions. Our brains work so that we reflect and respond to the people around us. Instead of mirroring adolsecent snarls and grunts, as parents we have an opportunity to engage with our teenage children and guide them through the difficult patches as they build the scaffold for their adult brains.
We’ll be looking at this in much more depth at the BK5 Workshop (no link) on December 3rd 2011 at Viveka. Kitty and I would love to meet you and discover what you would like to know and any issues you’d like to resolve withyour own teenagers.