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Breaking the Teen Code

They stand as tall as you. They move from kiddie meals to full adult-sized portions with dessert and cereal two hours later. Emotions are as sporadic as the Texas weather. Teens. The adolescent years are one of the times that parents feel totally at a loss. Parents feel as though the foundation in which they intentionally build suddenly crumbled. Where did the sweet innocent, hugging child disappear? Let me assure you, they are still there with the same needs, needing love, understanding, acceptance, and structure.

When I counsel teens and young adults, the one common thing I hear from teens is, "I feel lonely." This loneliness sometimes turns into drug use, wrong friendships, bad choices, or mental illness such as depression or anxiety. Not all of this can is avoidable as our youth are now exposed more to the temptations of trying to fit in. "In teen's brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That's why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can't explain later what they were thinking. They weren't thinking as much as they were feeling" (University of Rochester Medical Center).

However, a loss of family connection is sure to drive a child in the wrong direction. How is a parent to know when or how to interact with a person whose moods shift instantly, and there's often a "leave me alone" statement or look in waiting? A few suggestions to help your child secure is

  • check-in daily, even if it's a simple hello or text message.

  • Know your child's friends and listen to their friendship concerns without judgment.

  • Model self-care of the family by incorporating family time such as dinner together at home, a family game night, or movie night. Family rituals are a necessity.

  • Hug your child! Often teens are struggling with emotions, self-esteem, and relationships secretly. Hugging often provides the emotional and physical contact needed. When I asked a teen in counseling once, "What's the one thing you want from your mom?" His response was a hug. He was too afraid to ask.

  • Have fair age-appropriate rules to provide structure; structure provides security

Lastly, don't be afraid to parent. Parenting includes:

  • Correcting your teen by modeling the behavior you desire.

  • Helping the teen to reason life challenges without getting emotional.

  • Teaching how to balance school and social activities

  • Making sure your teen is not over-involved and not sleeping well

  • Helping with areas of struggle even if it appears easy

  • Creating a home environment where families respect one another in word and deed

  • Letting your child know expectations and be consistent

  • Authentically complimenting strengths and behaviors

Your teen will come to you if they feel safe. The safe zone is a zone of not overreacting, name-calling, put-downs, or threats. Your teen wants to connect; after all, the family is usually the only consistent thing a child has. Parents aren't perfect, but fortunately your child simply wants a present and willing parent to help them navigate life's sometimes difficult course.

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