Aug 31, 2015

Dr. Gellner: Most parents worry when their children become teenagers. Preparing for your adolescent is today's topic on The Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the Healthy Kid Zone with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: So adolescence is technically defined as the time from puberty until adulthood, and adolescence is becoming a longer period of time for many. Children are becoming more mature at earlier ages and that can be a scary thing for most parents.

Parents may notice just physical changes on their child when puberty begins any time after the eighth birthday. Yes, I said the eighth birthday. Hormones can cause physical changes as well as the emotional changes for adolescence, those mood swings, yes. Both boys and girls become taller, their bodies start to change, teens start to have strong sexual urges and are able to become parents themselves. So make sure your teen knows they can come to you with their questions about any of this, especially sex.

Even though these talks may be uncomfortable, you want your child to know your values while being educated on these issues. Teens in their early years have trouble understanding another person's perspective, particularly their parents. They believe that their experiences are so unique that no one, again particularly their parents, can ever understand what they're feeling. Young teens also struggle with abstract, logical thought. Their thinking tends to be more concrete and they see most things in terms of black and white. While older teenagers are able to see more of the big picture, they also tend to question more rather than accept information and values. This means they may engage in heated debates with their parents over anything they think is illogical about their parents' views.

The main job of an adolescent is to establish their identity. They will spend a great deal of time trying to decide who they are, what values they believe in, and what they want to accomplish in life. It's a time to start deciding for themselves what is right and what is wrong. Teens may try different behaviours in different situations to find out what fits best for them. For example, teens may try being studious, or they may try drugs and alcohol, or they may try other cool behaviours because they want to be part of the in-crowd.

Other teens may not struggle with identity issues at all. They may simply accept their parents' values and expectations for their lives. Some teens, though, deliberately choose values that are opposite of their parents', and some teens may not establish a firm identity until adulthood or later, think about those twenty-somethings living in their parents' basement. Adolescents establish their own identities by separating themselves from their parents and become more influenced by their peers.

This does not mean that parents lose the ability to influence their teenager, though. Most teens have views on politics, religion, and social issues that are very close to their parents' views. The majority of teens do have positive relationships with their parents.

And there are many things that you, as a parent, can do during this period to help your teen. Continue to encourage strong family relationships. Listen and keep the lines of communication open between you and your teen and tell them often that you love them. Be sure to respect their privacy unless they show unsafe behaviours and discipline with love and common sense. Your teen may not have common sense. If your family is part of a particular faith, keep spirituality an important part of a family's life. Teens with strong religious beliefs have a lower rate of alcohol use, cigarette, and marijuana use.

Help your teen build connections with others by volunteering their time in a meaningful way. Be aware that you are still your teen's role model so watch your use of alcohol, watch what you eat, be sure to exercise and especially, watch how you manage your anger. Get to know your teen's friends. Invite them over or volunteer to drive them to activities like going to the mall or to a sporting event. Encourage your teen to participate in extracurricular activities and be involved as a parent. Attend their activities and know if they're getting stressed out by too many activities or something going on in the activity.

Help your teen develop problem-solving skills. Allow them to learn from their mistakes without swooping in to save them. This is particularly true for those that are now helicopter parents. Keep a sense of humour and maintain your perspective. Understand that their culture, music and clothing styles will be different than what you are used to and may be different than what you would like. Remember, you were a teenager too once. Finally, get professional help for teens who harm themselves, abuse drugs or alcohol, or make suicidal or homicidal threats. Being a friend and a role model to your teen, you can help them become a productive, strong adult.

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