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What your teen needs to learn

 
4 steps your teenage son needs to take to become an independent adult.
Megan de Beyer and Jason Bantjes

Pic: iStockphoto.com

Article originally in Parent24
Healthy adolescent development requires, among other things, that teens successfully accomplish these important tasks: They need to gain control over their lives; establish the beginnings of an adult identity; and ultimately free themselves from the constraints of the family. They are also learning about sexuality and relationships, all important steps towards becoming a fully rounded adult.

Gain control

Your teenager needs to enter adulthood knowing that he has control over his life and his destiny. He will need to have the confidence and necessary skills to make his own decisions. He’ll need to accept that his actions will have consequences that he will have to live with. Many of the arguments that you and your son have are nothing more than an attempt on his part to achieve autonomy over his own life. Welcome these as signs that your son is maturing and endeavour to help him learn the skills he needs to make his own decisions. Your son needs your approval, love and support no matter what he says or does.
  • Give your son clear but reasonable limits. He needs to know where the boundaries are. Limits provide your son with security and safety, and allow him to learn to make decisions. Negotiate freedom within boundaries.
  • Try to create opportunities for your son to make his own decisions and be autonomous. This might include, for example, managing his own finances and buying his own clothes and toiletries.
  • Be available to give advice when it is asked for but step back whenever possible. Coming to your son’s rescue unnecessarily or prematurely may send him the wrong message.
  • Freedom comes with responsibility. He needs to stick to agreements. Help him set personal goals.
  • Tolerate as much independence as you can and remember that your son is not rejecting you, he’s just growing into himself. If most of your arguments start or end with him saying, “Why do you always treat me like a child?”, then independence is probably an issue.
  • Accept your limitations. You cannot force your teenager to work harder than he wants to nor can you get him to do homework that he has decided not to do. All you can do is make sure he knows the consequences of what he is doing.

Establish an identity
Your son needs to enter adulthood with a clear idea of who he is. He needs to be aware of his strengths, weaknesses, values, goals, and beliefs, and to perceive himself as being a unique and valuable member of his community. He needs to feel that others accept him and respect him for who he is. To achieve this, your son will challenge the things you say, the values you hold and your opinions. This is not a rejection of you; it is part of a process of searching for his identity.
  • Remember that your son is an individual, not merely an extension of you. Do not expect your son to share your dreams, ambitions and values; he has his own.
  • Aid him to build his self-esteem: Expect blaming and projection from him due to his fragile and immature ego identity.

Liberate himself from the family
Your son needs to feel that he is part of the family but at the same time separate from it. Much of your son’s challenging adolescent behaviour stems from an attempt to perceive himself as his own man who, while still having a role to play in his family, is distinct from his family.
  • Understand that your son will start to look outside of the family unit for emotional support, approval, recognition and acceptance. This is a normal part of growing up. If you attempt to limit this you may force him to liberate himself from the family in a way that is painful for everyone.
  • Be more self-aware especially of what your own needs are, and find interests outside your son’s life.

Understand intimacy
For the first time his relationships have become eroticised and he is discovering how to deal with new urges and drives within a romantic relationship. Attachment is something he is learning to negotiate.
This can also be an intense phase of establishing who his real friends really are. He needs to understand how to be a true friend himself. Team sports help this process as they insist on loyalty and camaraderie. Alcohol, drugs and parties are a part of choices and if strict boundaries are not in place a boy may disrupt his maturing conscience.
  • Friendships become all important. Acknowledge that your son’s generation values friendship and relationships far more than our generation.
  • Never stop telling your son that you love him: (especially if you are his dad!)
  • Ask your son for (and listen to) his opinion. Our boys’ have incredible insight on issues of (among other things) morality, politics and relationships. They understand the complexities of the “big issues” and want to discuss them. Your son needs to know that you value his views and that his opinion counts. ¬
  • Show an interest in what your son does but accept that he will not tell you everything; secrets are part of being a teenager.
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