ACS photo thumbnailBy John Bernhardt

The adolescent years can be challenging times in schools and at home. As children enter adolescence they scream for freedom, become obsessed with fairness, and experience great physical and emotional change. That change does not always occur in regular and predictable patterns.

The nice part about the adolescent years is that they end. Many times youngsters can be grappling as adolescents one day and almost transform into young adults the next. Even so, the adolescent years can be difficult times for children. These times can also be taxing for the teachers, parents, and caregivers that work with the adolescent set.

It’s tempting to respond to adolescent clamor at the extremes. Sometimes adults provide too much freedom before youngsters are mature enough to accept it. Other adults respond in the opposite direction, clinging to these emerging young adults too tightly and restricting almost every opportunity of the children to accept responsibility and accept consequences.

Handling adolescents effectively is a tough balancing act. The ground beneath your feet seems to shift on a moment-by-moment basis. Yet, research tells us that adolescent children do best when they remain connected to their parents and significant adults. At the same time, adults who respect the need for youngsters at this age to have a point of view which might differ from their own usually work more effectively with adolescents than those who do not. The following tips are food for thought when dealing with adolescents:

► Set limits. Children actually respect limits. “They will ‘spit, cuss, fuss, and fidget” a lot, but underneath it all defined limits lessen some of the pressures that come with adolescence. “My parents make me,” is an acceptable response when a youngster is denied an experience they might not be quite ready to handle. Limits provide security and assure youngsters that the important adults in their lives really care. Blame for missing an event shifts from the youngster to the adult and they save face in their peer group.

► Be clear and specific. Adolescent youngsters struggle with generalities. “Clean the garage,” is a far cry less clear than, “take everything out of the garage, sweep and wash the floor, and store all items in an orderly fashion.” The clearer and more specific instructions are from adults, the more likely the adolescent will successfully complete tasks and meet expectations.

► Delayed gratification works. Sadly, in our ever-quickening world, it seems old fashioned to wait for just about anything anymore. But, the old adage, “patience is a virtue,” still holds. Waiting to take part in anchor events in one’s childhood magnifies the importance of those events and makes them meaningful and memorable.

► Allow choices within choices. Adolescent youngsters crave choices. Many times adults cannot allow them an open menu of choices, but often adults can determine clear boundaries and then allow youngsters choices within those lines.

► Grant independence in stages. Increasing adolescent independence can be an “earn as you go process.” Allow increasing levels of independence as youngsters prove they are ready to take on more responsibility.

► It’s okay to say “No.” Issues hold different pay values. Sometimes minor issues may not be worth the fight. For instance, styles and hair length are more negotiable than deciding whether or not your child should take a college credit course. A good rule of thumb is to say no to choices that might limit future options.

► Let kids make mistakes. More and more adults seem to want to sanitize childhood. It’s okay for youngsters to make mistakes. Trial and error is a critical part of the learning process. Making mistakes should not be viewed as character statements. Youngsters learn resilience by facing and conquering disappointments. In fact, mistakes often provide a great forum for healthy conversations that accelerate growth and progress.

► Guide, but resist the temptation to control. When it comes to learning, environment counts. Strong foundations between people are not built on controlling relationships. Power is best used when shared. Good communication means good listening and the ability to examine perspectives from multiple points of view.

► Allow the last word. A lion’s share of many contentious moments between adolescents and adults occur over the last word. Most adults were brought up in environments where the last word was an undisputed property right of the elder. Yet, the last word in a dispute is not the critical factor. It’s far more important that an adolescent youngster follow a directive of a supervising adult even if the young person yammers to have the final word on the subject. Actions speak louder than words. ~