As parents, if we were to believe the portrayals of parenthood in our world-wide media, we would be in a constant state of despair. Eight-year olds who are ‘burning out’; teenagers whose ‘tanks are empty and increasing tales of angry; frustrated parents unable to get ‘the help’ they require for their young people, tomorrow’s adults and future educators and leaders.
Deep down, I sense that there are more parents invested in equipping their children and teenagers with the competences that, a generation ago, we may not have been aware of. The great news is that those competences are inherent in most human beings. We find that when parents and their children work together (especially in the crucial teen years) to make the most of the potential super-growth and strength that lies within our young people, awesome things can happen, and probably the most important development is the crucial relationship that develops between parent and child for the rest of their lives. It transcends the practical help a parent offers in the younger child, and teen and takes the relationship to a different plane altogether where the adult child and parent are always connected through loving kindness and understanding of each other. By the way, I deliberately said ‘most human beings’ because there is always an element of psychological and/or physical development in children that may be hereditary and must be approached with a different strategy.
In almost thirty years of working with adolescents there have been the same subjects that have constantly arisen in families: bullying, poor communication, managing boundaries and behavioural changes. That said, I am currently pre-occupied with our current world-wide situation when investigating the parent-teen relationship, and how the pandemic has shifted the dynamics considerably to the point where I have 50% more adolescents in counselling than in December 2021. In just 3 months the number of teenagers I now have in counselling has risen by half. That is significant and we must now take this seriously if we are to assist them in navigating this rocky road to adulthood.
I’m going to throw the cat amongst the pigeons here. My experience in this environment points to the fact that we have been increasingly neglecting the fundamental needs of our children, and particularly our teenagers, for one reason or many others. It appears that they either take on an adult role at a much younger age, thus missing out on crucial childhood development, or they are helicopter-parented almost to adulthood. In the latter scenario any slight challenge or the unexpected causes them, at best, anxiety, and at worst, debilitating panic attacks that become routine and habitual. There seems to be a correlation between this and the increase in mental health challenges that develop as these teens become adults.
This really isn’t anything new, but let’s throw into the equation the heady mix of simply growing up, the pandemic of 2020/21 and the ongoing recovery process of 2022. We now must consider a change in, not only the way we measure a young person’s mental wellness but also accommodating the changing parameters of a parent’s mental well-being as a result of the recent challenges our world continues to face.
After our teenagers had spent a few decades with increasing freedom and independence, at an earlier age, suddenly, this was retracted because of the Pandemic lockdowns and restrictions. Rigid social distancing came into force in schools, something akin to North Korea’s approach to education as we might visualise it. School closures grew longer for some and for others, in less organised schools, there was an in-and-out approach to school. No sooner were our young people told to go home; they were told to return. For many it meant lengthy closures and if you were fortunate, an online classroom situation. For others, this was not the case and many teenagers at the exam crucial age of 15-18 lost interest in their education. Afterall it wasn’t the virus that was restricting them but the restrictions around the virus and, if we have learned one thing that is to be expected from our adolescents, it is ‘that it’s just not fair’ if they have to put up with something that they believe they are not directly affected by.
Parents, in the meantime were anxious about getting to grips with home-working and the added pressure of navigating home-schooling with their less than enthusiastic teens.
2 years later and still re-adjustment is going on. While parents attempt to manage ‘back-to-normal’ expectations (whatever they are) there has, in many children, of all ages, been a shift in behaviour and attitude that families must continue to navigate.
As a parent, to be able to recognise this within your family is the first step. You are not alone as a parent or a family. Globally, all families are dealing, in their own way, with the trauma of this pandemic and its aftermath. Only today, families desperate to go on their first holiday in over two years are finding flights cancelled. This time, restrictions around the pandemic have been lifted but the effects of regulatory testing are creating economic challenges that, in many ways, are preventing the world from moving on.
Perhaps our reluctance to get to the nitty-gritty of discussing our feelings and our ability to show our vulnerability will no longer be an option if we are to remain in control. As with any trauma, we have the research to prove that when ignored it is more than probable that trauma will manifest with a defence or avoidance technique such as drugs, alcohol, social withdrawal, anxiety, anger and depression. As a family, the more we come together to share and solution-find; learn to navigate adolescence with love first, and positivity and empowerment in parallel; and, help our teenagers to navigate their feelings, all at the same time as helping them understand that parents have also had to adapt to this rocky path, the more we will strengthen and bond in a collective understanding for life.
While this is a significant, unexpected variable for the parents of adolescents, there are still the familiar challenges to be handled with care. Subjects like bullying – whether your teen is being bullied or you suspect your teen of bullying. How we (do or don’t) communicate with our adolescents on easy, as well as difficult subjects – sexuality being one. Then there are the behavioural changes – anger, withdrawal and the perils of perfectionism (child and/or parent). What about helicopter-parenting? How does that impact both the adolescent and the family? How do we ultimately prepare them, our teenagers, and ourselves, for letting go?
There are so many subjects that come under these rather large umbrellas around parenting adolescents, and that’s why we’ve developed a helpful 10-week course, where we will share with you the latest research and findings, recommended readings as well as tried and tested tools that are easy to use, when you know how to use them correctly.
Our 10-week course will offer you the opportunity to participate in a weekly, 90-min Zoom call with me Amanda Graham, MSc (Psychologist and experienced adolescent/family counsellor) and 9 other parents or carers of adolescents,
Each call will involve 45 minutes ‘in the classroom’ on a particular subject (all information will also be sent to you via an email resource document along with the recording of the first 45 minutes of the session). The latter half of the session will be Questions & Answers, shared experiences and/or potential solutions and advice. You will be invited (if relevant to your particular family dynamic) to put into practise the skills we discuss during our sessions and share back your outcomes with the group.
This course may bring up behaviours that parents have developed from their own early-learning environment, as you would expect but, to be clear, this space will be entirely non-judgmental. It is quite simply a place of learning and subconscious growth, so that we can make the most of the formative years that we have been entrusted with to guide and support our young people into their adult life.
We can’t promise that this will be easy – but it will be a very worthwhile course that will help you to build the foundations of a healthy relationship with your adolescent, that will last for life – and that’s priceless.
For you and your partner to participate in the program, the cost is £499 for the full ten-week program. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to join us, or if you would like some more detailed information to help inform your decision.
The challenge is greater in 2022 than it has ever been before in our lifetime, and any parent who comes onto this programme is already in the right mindset, with the best interests of their families at heart. It is in fact a loving, brave and humble parent who looks to learn more about one of the most taken-for-granted roles in society, a role so natural and yet ultimately the biggest responsibility we, as humans, can be charged with. I only wish that it had been possible to tap into a resource such as this when my children were teenagers. We simply can’t have enough ‘tools’ in that box of learning to ever understand the relationship too much.