by Anne Guillot
Teen Breathe magazine
Illustration by Anieszka Banks
Neither child nor adult, the adolescent years require careful navigation
Children grow quickly. One day you have a smiling baby, the next a moody, unpredictable, almost unknowable child. What’s happened? Was it something you did (or didn’t) do? How did you get this parenting thing so wrong? It could be you’re asking yourself the wrong questions. Perhaps it’s not about you, but it is about them. Have you thought they might be making their grand entrance into teenagehood?
Although it’s never too late to try to understand the world from their perspective, missing or ignoring early signs of adolescence can deepen any distance you might start to feel later on. Preparing yourself, on the other hand, can help to avoid misunderstandings and confrontation. If the early phases of childhood change come rather naturally, completing one milestone at a time, the preteen years (between nine and 12) mark a time of accelerating change and tremendous challenge. As they learn to navigate this precarious passage into adulthood, they instinctively become more sensitive and self-conscious as they endeavour to discover who they really are.
How can you possibly understand them if they don’t even know themselves? Think back to your teenage years. Can you remember the happy times? And what about the difficult situations you had to overcome, the indecision, the embarrassment and the failure? Mostly, can you recall the intense emotions and overwhelming confusion? It wasn’t always easy, but eventually, you made it to the other side. It’s an inevitable part of growing up, so it’s important to let them go – slowly and surely – and allow them the freedom to explore the world by themselves (to some extent). In this way, they’ll develop their personality as they learn from their experiences, misjudgements and mistakes. It can be a lonely and scary journey, so try to be there to accompany them, but as a mentor rather than an enemy.
There will still be times when it seems they’ve closed off from you, especially as you struggle to communicate constructively. Parenting teenagers in the digital age is challenging, but try not to let them withdraw into the online world – or their shell. Be patient and let them know they can always talk calmly and openly to you. If they do open up, make the time to listen – without prejudging them or the situation. Be sympathetic, avoid criticism, and try to bridge the generational differences by showing interest in their life while sharing aspects of your own. Work with not against them. If you stay open-minded and respect their opinions, they’re more likely to trust your judgments and appreciate your advice.
Finding one’s place in the world is difficult for anyone, even more so a teenager struggling with physiological and emotional upheaval. It isn’t their fault either. The teenage brain is culpable; as well as undergoing a significant rewiring and restructuring phase, it is under the influence of new, raging hormones.
Dr Frances Jensen, neuroscientist and author of The Teenage Brain, explains: “Teenagers make much more sense when you understand that the frontal lobes of the brain – the part responsible for judgment, impulse control, mood and emotions – is the last part to fully develop. So the brain just doesn’t know how to regulate itself yet. They’re like Ferraris with weak brakes.”
When you add peer pressure, body-image anxieties, bullying and the more negative aspects of social media to the mix it’s unsurprising that teenagers view the path to independence and confidence as tortuous and never-ending. If you can give them the assurance, encouragement and guidance they need, however, then in a few years’ time, they should be ready to face the world on their own terms.
Teen Breathe is the only wellbeing magazine for teenagers. It’s packed with engaging, informative articles to help them discover who they are as well as tips, ideas and activities designed to inspire and encourage them to aim high and dream big. Available in your local magazine retailer and online.
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