updated 19 Jul 2013, 03:46
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Thu, Apr 11, 2013
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Do you know why your teens are the way they are?
by Marina Abad Santos Benipayo

My little boys have grown. As I watch my two sons sleep peacefully, I often say a prayer of thanks for the years we have gone through together. They have grown from lovable bundles of joy into endearing full-fledged teens. I love my boys tremendously, though they can be a handful at times.

To help me understand the way youngsters think, I took up subjects on developmental growth and gathered some facts. I am no specialist, and my only wish is to help parents understand their children more.

During the teen years, the brain goes through a major reorganisation. It's like a tree being pruned, where the unnecessary branches are cut off for new ones to grow and better connections formed so that in time, it will be ready for all kinds of weather.

But while this goes on, having to absorb information can be a huge challenge. This is not indicative of intellectual capacity, though, which works in another part of the brain.

The human brain has other parts for evaluating choices, decision-making and taking action, so if our teenager's brain is going through this kind of pruning, it's bound to make some lopsided judgement. This explains the clumsiness, the angst, the need for greater independence and privacy, and impulsiveness.

Keep in mind, though, that in the case of extreme, morally wrong behaviour or addiction, we should seek help for the child. And if so, we should not see this phase as a problem, but rather as a challenging and adaptive period.

Bumpy ride

While I'm not generalizing about teenagers, there may be points here you can relate to. And if we think about it, we did go through some impulsiveness, agitation and clumsiness, too, when we were their age.

When we get annoyed with their confusing behaviour, we must understand that they are going through a bumpy ride themselves. We might see their behaviour as ridiculous or disrespectful, which creates greater tension in our relationship with them.

The teenage years are a time of identity-searching, temptation, pressure and self-awareness. Their response depends on how we react whenever they try to open up to us parents. And if we are not there to support them through this difficult phase, they might go and find the answers somewhere else.

I believe in the power of repetition and building habits. We should never give up encouraging the right behaviour. Be mindful, though, that it's not what questions you ask a teenager, but how you ask them. Our demeanour, tone of voice and sensitivity count a lot.

It also helps if we know the physiological, mental and emotional changes our kids go through in puberty. That way, we don't get offended or alarmed when they seem restless, out of touch, demanding, or have self-image concerns.

When Joshua gives me inaudible gibberish as an answer when I ask what he did in school, instead of reacting negatively, I assume he is too tired to talk about it because of schoolwork or basketball practice, or just not interested in answering just yet.

In any case, the important thing is that he got home safe. I can just ask him again over dinner, when he is more relaxed.

I worry about Mark a lot, but I knew that college life was also an opportunity for self-discovery. Since the start of his second year, I allowed my eldest son, Mark, to stay in a dorm. It was a difficult decision, but I knew that sooner or later his need for independence will come.

I gave him a set of rules which he must abide, covering everything from his academic performance and managing his allowance, to the upkeep of the dorm and frequency of our communication.

When we helped him move his things to the dorm, I cried buckets. I kept thinking of the years I had protected him and Joshua from sadness or harm. I thought about the time my little Mark would call me from their room to show me a spider under their bed. Spiders scared me to death, but at that time, I had to act like the brave superhero they thought I was.

But it's different now.

Right or wrong

In between tears from missing him, I said, "Mark, there will be times when you might think you don't have a choice. Never allow yourself to think that. Sorting things out may be confusing because you have so many options, so keep it simple and just ask yourself if it is right or wrong. If you're able to do that, then I wouldn't have much to worry about."

Mark assured me by saying, "I know that I am responsible for the freedom you gave me. You always showed me that I have a choice in any situation, as long as I know what is right and wrong. The hardships I'm experiencing these days are for the right reasons-my self-improvement. Don't worry, Mom, you raised me well, and you know that. I know that I can do more, and that is why I'm doing what I am doing. We'll get through it together."

Mark and I continue to have our little misunderstandings, but he makes sure our communication lines are open.

Our children live in a world entirely different from what we parents have gotten used to. It is time to accept that and work toward knowing what we can do, rather than lecturing about how different we were from them.

Sure, there are more things to fear once our children step out that door, but this should not stop us from continuing to be their guiding light. We wish the best for them, and know that they can be much more than what they are now.

So on their journey, let's do our heartfelt best to be there when they need us. How difficult this adjustment is will depend on how much we are willing to welcome change in our relationship with our teenagers. This knowledge should motivate us to reinforce the lessons we teach them. We owe it to them, and to ourselves.

Wouldn't it be a good idea to prop your child up with the comfort of knowing that whatever happens, we will never be out of reach? Can you imagine how much more difficult it could be when they become parents themselves? Let's go that extra mile and start now. If we choose to do the right thing, it can definitely be the hardest mountain to climb. But the wisdom we can provide will be the ultimate gift we can ever give.

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