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Good parenting of Preteens and Teens

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - 00:00 -- BY WACUI MAKORI

I had the opportunity to sit in a seminar for parents with teenagers and
although I had gate-crashed the session, I learnt quite a bit. One of the major
messages conveyed all through the session is that not all teenagers get into
trouble and that parenting teens doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. I
have to admit that as a parent who waits for the teen years to arrive with
quite a bit of trepidation, hearing this was a relief.  

Apparently the thing that makes parenting teens especially challenging
is that they are much bigger, have higher logic capacity and have propensity to
engage in risky behaviour and generally challenge authority. It however emerged
that if the parent has laboured wisely in the foundation years, he/she will
have an easier time in comparison to the parent who was not present in the
early years. Ultimately, a parent’s own actions, attitudes, ethics and
behaviour will be adopted by the teenager which in turn breeds rebellion and
strife with your teenage child. 

Experts agree that adolescence sets in at nine years and continues on until
a person turns 20. It is important to note that there are three keys stages
between these years and that at each stage, the child behaves differently and
requires different needs from his/her parents.

9 – 13 years

Referred to as the pre-teens, children at this age feel very
disorganised and disoriented because they still engage in childish behaviour
and have teen tendencies. It is not surprising for a child at this age to
suddenly have a burst of energy and engage in childish play and in the very
next moment become moody, withdrawn and seem to challenge authority. 

For the parent of a child at this stage, it may be a bit confusing to
keep up with your child because in your mind, he/she is still a child. This
confusion comes about because most parents use sexual development as an
indicator of when their child gets to adolescence. So, even if the sexual
maturity of a child at this age may not yet be visible, the reality is that
their mind is no longer that of a child. Pre-teens need their parents to offer
support, be patient and understanding with them even as they switch back and
forth between childishness and teenager behaviour.

14 – 16 years

These are the teen years proper and at this age, a child being in
his/her teenage years is no longer in doubt. Not only is it physically visible
at what stage of life the child is, their behaviour is also very telling. At
this stage, the teen is very conscious about their body image and attraction to
the opposite sex becomes very apparent. They also start to seek more personal
freedom and will often feel like their parents ‘are not fair’, do not
understand’, ‘are too old school’ or simply that ‘the parent does not trust
them’.

Teens need their parents to ‘loosen the strings’ slightly so that they
can make this important transition. Parents on the other hand need to allow greater
independence but continue to monitor their teen while enforcing the rules. A
teen needs security and though they seem to detest it, a parent who offers
structure provides a stabilizing effect for their teen. The parent should also
be available to listen to their children and be the one credible source of
information against a background of unreliable sources.

17-20 years

These are the late-teen years and the most important component of these
years is the gradual shift and emergence of a new adult–adult relationship. At
this stage, those who have negotiated the previous stages successfully begin to
take on a more adult-like perspective on life. Power struggles and rebellion
diminish considerably and the child enters a stage of decision-making as pertains
their life. 

Late teens desperately need their parents to offer them support as they
make important life decisions. They need their parents to set them free and
trust them completely since this is the stage where majority leave home to go
to college.