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Surviving the Turbulent Teens

Sarah Chana Radcliffe M.E.D., C. PSYCH ASSOC

Teenagers, as their parents will quickly tell you, are not simply older children. They are an entirely different breed with unique struggles, issues, and needs. What to expect, and how to help your teenager grow into a happy, healthy, responsible adult.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

rollercoaster mishpacha magazineBy the time a child reaches the teenage years, his or her father and mother will have spent over ten years in the parenting profession. Shouldn’t all of that experience make the job of raising a teenager relatively straightforward?

Any seasoned parent will quickly disabuse you of this notion with a resounding “no.” Many find that the child-rearing strategies they relied on for years are suddenly ineffective. A simple request to one’s teen can turn into an all-out power struggle. Some parents wonder why their once-amiable child now feels like a stranger.

What is it about a teenager that makes this decade so challenging for parents? You’ll notice, for starters, that I said decade, not the seven years from 13 to 19. That’s because the “terrible teen” stage could start as early as 10 years old and last until age 20 (maybe even a little older in some cases). Younger teens (between 10 and 15) do still share some characteristics with children, and even older teens retain some childlike traits. Parents are never completely sure whether to offer hot chocolate or issue a bill for room and board.

Strikingly similar to children in their toddler years, teenagers will often do anything to assert their independence. Now bigger, taller, stronger, and more mature-looking, adolescents think of themselves as grown-ups. Although they may retain the childlike desire to have their parents do all the unpleasant or arduous tasks of life for them — cooking, cleaning, making money, running errands — they now want to make all the decisions that affect them, or at least have a major say in the matter. For instance, whereas a parent can decide that a nine-year-old is going to be staying at Bubby’s house for Shabbos, no self-respecting teenager can be offhandedly assigned a location. The young person will make his or her own arrangements, thank you very much.

The irony is that although teens want to make their own choices, they lack life experience — a lack that can, and indeed does, lead to poor decision-making. The problem only gets exacerbated when you factor in other notable teenage characteristics such as naivete, impulsivity, overconfidence, shortsightedness, a sense of invincibility, egocentricity, and magical thinking.


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