happy family together on the beach: how to build a better relationship with your teenagers

Understanding what your teen is going through can help you transition this development stage smoothly – at the end you both thrive, says clinical psychologist Hope Magubane for The Space Between Us.

“The children now love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercises. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize over their teachers.” – Socrates. 

This quote was penned over 2000 years ago. It’s reassuring to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The complaints about the changes in teenagers by each generation remain constant.

Raising teens today

How many times have you heard parents and other adults venting their frustration about how “teenagers are not like they were in the old days” or reminiscing about how “in the good all days you would tell them what to do and they would get it done, no questions asked!”?

Understanding what happens to teenagers at a developmental level, current culture, and how you can better support your teen can make this development stage a smooth transition. At the end you win, and your teenager thrives. So, get comfortable and let’s zoom in!

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The brain

Your teen’s brain is still developing, so don’t be fooled by their adult-looking appearance and grown-up talk. A process called synaptic pruning is taking place, think of it as having many pathways on a map that lead to desired destinations. In this stage of development, the teen brain no longer needs certain destinations, leading to those pathways being washed away, which contributes to a more sophisticated and efficient brain system.

The frontal cortex, which is responsible for logic, personality and decision-making, is still developing and is the last part of the brain to fully mature. Another important part of the brain in teens that plays a huge role in emotional regulation is the amygdala, responsible for emotions, that is not fully developed yet. Caregivers need to be mindful of these growth points and practice patience with their teens.

moody angry teenager: how to build a better relationship with your teen

Developmental stage and current culture

Teens struggle with identity, perspective, self-regulation and are consumed with the “self”. Our current culture is driven by technology, promoting, and maintaining isolation and confusion in teen years. This culture is problematic because, as humans, we need connections and we have seen a shift from “we” culture to “me” culture that’s driven by how many likes one gets on social media platforms.

It is also important to note that the economic environment for parents has become more demanding, this means less time spent at home and parents connecting more with their work. This shift has left teens feeling isolated, meaning more screen time and seeking validation from peers. These factors make matters worse for teens, who are already facing significant biological changes, that would benefit from meaningful adult interactions.

This has contributed to a decrease in teenagers developing socially-appropriate social cues like self-regulation and empathy. The challenges play out differently in African homes, with some being faced with zombie-like teens, more banging doors and flaring tempers, leaving parents feeling helpless and not knowing how to interact with their children.

The “me” culture goes against our four basic needs as humans:

• Acceptance
• Belonging
• Control
• Meaningful existence

To feel accepted and have a sense of belonging is now determined by one’s social media presence and how liked one is by their peers. Teens can find themselves overwhelmed with no control over their lives. This contributes to feelings of isolation and being unwanted.

In the Covid-19 pandemic an increase has been seen in teens presenting in mental healthcare facilities. Isolation and feelings of aloneness have taken centre stage during the pandemic and, with it, an increase in depressed and anxious teens.

Creating a new culture

A great responsibility lies with parents or teen caregivers who themselves may have become participants in the “me” culture. Pause to reflect on your own positioning in our culture of overworked parents or social media parents because this will have a huge impact on how you interact with your teen.

In moving forward, what is important to note is that more meaningful physical connections are needed with teens, and this can be done through more communication. What we know about teens is that they want more connections, but biological factors may make it difficult for them to fully express their needs. Remember this is a confusing time for them and as a parent you have the role of modelling appropriate social behaviours in your interactions with them. This can be done by communicating four variables that are key to promoting striving teens and maintaining healthy relationships:

Empathy

It is important to learn to empathise with children to develop trust and secure attachments. It is also important to also practice care for others in order to help children develop an awareness of other people’s perspectives and needs.

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Forgiveness

Forgiveness requires acknowledging the act, understanding the act committed and its impact.

Gratitude

Acknowledge their efforts and allow them to celebrate their own accomplishments and those of others.

Humility

When you model humility it helps your child see value in others, build deep connections and promote acceptance.

mother and daughter together: how to build a better relationship with your teenager

Tips for mending the relationship with your teen

On your parenting journey remember Peggy O’ Mara’s words: The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. If the relationship with your teenager is breaking down, these are some ways to fix things:

Identify and frame the issue. Is it a …

• lack of communication?
• teen isolating themselves?
• teen always challenging you?
• feeling like you don’t know your teen?

Self-awareness …

• How do you parent your child?
• Have you hurt your teen through comments or rejection?
• What triggers you to respond in a hurtful manner?

Guilt and forgiveness …

• Remember you are not perfect.
• Forgive yourself for mistakes.
• Sincerely ask your child for forgiveness.

Make teens feel valued …

• Listen to and respect their opinions.
• Tell them you are proud of them.
• Tell them you love them.
• Give your teens space.
• Isolation and space are not the same.
• Speak to your kids about how they can ask for space.

Allow teens to make their own decisions …

• Allow for them to learn and grow.
• Practice less shaming when they make mistakes.
• Guide them through their mistakes.

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Ask for help …

• Speak to a teacher, doctor or psychologist based on the teen’s needs.
• Show teens that it’s okay to ask for help.

These are just some of the skills explored by The Space Between Us workshop “Integrating Home, Work, and Play Series”. In it we learn to develop skills to deepen connections and quality time with children of all ages, while building a network of support with like-minded parents. The workshop focuses on helping parents live an authentic and connected life, which can assist them in avoiding mental health challenges further on in life. You can book your spot now by clicking HERE.

space between us
The Space Between Us is a human-centred digital platform for individuals to connect, relate and engage meaningfully with mental wellness tools. The organisation provides guidance that is in touch with the African psyche. Unlike traditional wellness providers and informal online communities, The Space Between Us offers quality clinical expert advice and provides access to a community of like-minded people from a diversity of life experiences.