For most people, this rite of passage is one of the toughest to get through. Partly because adolescence marks changes across the spectrum of who we are: academically, emotionally, physiologically, and of course socially; but also because this time of our lives lasts several years. Dr. Michael Meyerhoff outlines the differences between historical and modern adolescence, “Of course, things used to be simpler and more straightforward back in the old days. A young person’s spurt in size and strength, plus the biological capacity to reproduce that accompanied puberty, were really all that was necessary to enter adulthood. The rules and requirements for mature behavior were so basic and clear that the mental abilities, emotional stability, and store of experience attained by the early to mid-teens were quite sufficient to handle whatever was involved.”
Today information overload is almost universal, the amount of information and number of experiences adolescents need to have to be prepared for adulthood are far greater than in the historical past, and therefore the parenting challenge is far greater. Dr. Phyllis Bronstein helped write an article in Family Relations in which she and others conducted a longitudinal study of fifth graders following them into seventh grade. They augmented this study with research conducted by others to use parenting behaviors to predict middle and high school adjustment.
After reviewing the relevant research on both supportive and authoritative parenting, the parenting characteristics that provide the best chance for positive adjustment are:
1. Support- referring to affection, approval, love and nurturance. Providing a sense a self worth, both by example and direct, simple communication.
2. Attentiveness. Really listening to your kids and eliciting from them their feelings, ideas, interests and experiences. If you are responding using single syllable words, or worse, talking when you should be listening, you are probably not being attentive.
3. Responsiveness. Is a broad category including, considering, acknowledging, and actively responding to the needs your child expresses including, reassurance, information, and companionship. Specifically, Dr. Bronstein suggests, “Parental responsiveness, which models empathy, altruism, responsibility, and open-mindedness, and lets children know that needs can be met through relationships with other people, seems likely to enhance social development and the ability to make friends. In addition, parents' allowing their children's input into decision making presumably can enhance both children's problem-solving abilities and their sense of self-worth, which can foster their successful handling of the greater academic challenges that middle school offers”.
4. Guidance. Providing direction, information, guidelines and limits for children, enabling them to learn appropriate cultural behaviors, life skills and good judgment. Obviously you can’t guide your child if you’re not having quality interactions to begin with.
5. Receptivity to emotions. Allowing your child to express their emotions increases their level of resilience and ability to cope with academic and social stressors.
There is an old saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. I believe nowhere is this truer than in our relationships with our children. It is virtually impossible to tell them too often how much you love them, or show them too much by taking an active interest in them and their challenges. To end for today, I challenge every parent to tell each of their children at least three times a day, “I love you” and “I am proud of you”; then listen, really listen, for the response. It might just make adolescence your favorite rite of passage.