An Expert’s Top Tips For Dealing With Teenagers

How to handle your adolescent's feelings and help them negotiate the rocky road to adulthood.

How to deal with your teenager

by Stella O'Malley |
Published on

Stella O’Malley was, as she describes a ‘demonic teenager’ and for many parents, teenage children present one of the biggest challenges of their lives. Their behaviour can seem incomprehensible. Drawing upon years of experience as a psychotherapist and offering useful case studies, in her new book What Your Teen Is Trying To Tell You_, she offers tips on how to handle your adolescent’s feelings, ways to help them negotiate the sometimes rocky path to adulthood, and practical information on how to support them through mental health problems, eating disorders, alcohol and drug use and friendship challenges._

Here, she offers her top tips on dealing with teenagers...

Scale the wall of silence

Some teenagers completely shut down during adolescence and it can feel almost impossible to try to penetrate this wall. But it’s worth trying! Parents can begin by visiting the teen’s bedroom with a drink or something small you bought them. It’s important not to begin tidying when you visit, because that creates the wrong vibe. Also, it’s not madly recommended to speak like a sports coach as teens have usually had their fill of Hollywood-style, inspirational speeches. Instead it’s more helpful to say just a couple of warm words and leave it at that. Over time your visits might become a little longer. This doesn’t mean that you will soon be having heart-to-hearts, rather it’s like throwing pebbles in a barrel, one day all the little efforts will make a big difference.

Remember the half-formed teenage brain

The teenage brain is an unfinished construction site and our adult brains are much more advanced than theirs. In many ways, teenagers are like an undercooked cake – you can look in the oven and the cake looks perfect, however inside is a mush of under-cooked ingredients. Sometimes our teenagers can seem to be truly insane but usually this is just an example of their half-formed brains leading them to behave in much more impulsive, emotional and reckless ways compared to the adults who benefit from having fully-formed brains.

Don't get in the way of a teenager who is in the middle of learning a lesson

Just like infants and children, adolescents are required to reach certain milestones if they are eventually to become healthy, functioning adults and if parents interfere too much then the young person’s ability to learn the lesson can be impeded. Just like you needed to eventually let your child tie their own laces and ride the bike on their own, adolescents are more likely to  learn a valuable lesson and develop a more complex understanding of the world if they are confronted with their limitations.

Consider communication styles in the family

Think about how communication is working in the family. Some of us are direct communicators, and we use words to say exactly what we mean, while others are more indirect, and prefer to use metaphors, body language and tone of voice to communicate. Moreover, some people are very verbal and enjoy talking things out, while others are more physically-oriented and prefer a warm hug along with their favourite dinner. There is no point in the parents insisting on their style being the only style; teenagers benefit much more if parents fall in with their communication style and try to connect with them on their level.

Remember how difficult it is to be a teenager these days

Certain eras are more difficult on some groups than others and all the data suggests that it is extremely difficult to be a teenager today. Even if you had a difficult time during adolescence, your teenager is probably experiencing some added challenges. Technology, social media, freely available porn and other pressures have produced a generation of careful, anxious people who are obsessed with their looks. Their random spurts of reckless or bad behaviour is often reflective of their inner tension and compassion is often warranted.

Stella O'Malley is the author of What Your Teen Is Trying To Tell You, which is available now.

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