What I learned from parenting workshops #2

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Last week I started this new parenting mini-series as a way to document my own learning journey on how to better parent my teenage son.

Today, I continue on from there to talk about the myriad of changes that are happening irreversibly, and often imperceptibly, in him!

And boy are there many changes indeed when a child becomes a teen on the way to adulthood!!

Parenting — Emotional Changes in teens

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First off is actually what I left off with in my previous post.

There I had talked about how the amygdala (which is the “emo” part) in the average teen’s brain often takes the lead in their decision-making. Something that’s typically undertaken by the brain’s pre-frontal cortex which governs logic and problem-solving abilities. However, the pre-frontal cortex in the teen won’t be fully developed till they turn 25.

So the amygdala becomes the default driver in many a teen’s decision and choice of what to do day in and out.

What that essentially means is teens are much more prone to “emotional roller coasters” than adults (not saying of course that adults are always completely rational cool cats).

So the stark reality is this: teens are undergoing emotional changes within themselves all the time. And that’s not always obvious unless we know what to look out for.

The good news is that it is possible to know.

Like when the teen
— looks self-conscious
— appears easily triggered
— displays mood swings and even
— shows a sense of invincibility (“I can dad, trust me!“)

All these are tell-tale signs he’s going through emotional changes, and that I as his parent need to give him the space to express and if necessary recalibrate and regulate. So if, or rather when, we “clash” over differences in opinions and decisions, then I must remember not to take it to heart.

To realise he’s figuring things out without the benefit of a fully-developed brain, and not be too quick to chastise or blame him (or me!).

If there’s to be any blame whatsoever, it should go to biology!

Parenting – Biological and Social Changes in teens

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Together with emotional changes, I was also reminded in the parenting workshop that teens are undergoing social and biological or physical changes too.

The latter’s obvious to see in both genders, but since mine’s a boy, I’ll focus on the physical changes in him.

These include:
— growing taller, bigger, stronger, thicker and heftier in their body shape and size
— more hair evident in places other than the head (mainly the face, armpits, legs, hands and pubic area)
— voice breaking to sound more like a man
— increased appetite
— more prominent reproductive organs (and the onset of testosterone production)
— sweat glands expanding, making good hygiene critical
— staying up later at night

On the other hand, social changes are also happening, though less obvious.

These include the areas of:
— Communication
— Sense of responsibility and duty
— Independence
— Sexual identity
— Heightened awareness of gender differences
— Peer influence
— Sense of self-esteem
— New experiences
— Risk-taking behaviour
— Sense of right and wrong

With a list like that, which isn’t even exhaustive, clearly this phase of growing up is going to be an uphill climb for teens and parents alike!

Speaking of teens and parents…

Relationship changes with our teens

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This is probably the area of change that vexes both the teen and his parent the most.

While in many ways I’m blessed that so far my 13-year-old hasn’t given us much “grief” in our still close-knit relationship, this is still just the start of his teen journey. Meaning from hereon, anything can happen!

Experts will tell parents like me to ready ourselves for:
— Increased conflict
— More time our kid spends away from family than friends
— Increased differences in opinions and points of view

Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list. But even if it is, each one of these can pack a wallop when the heat gets cranked up several degrees (like our weather here the past two months!).

I’ve certainly experienced some of it with my son. From challenging rules at home to more openly-expressed disagreements and arguments, I’ve definitely experienced these relational changes between us over the past six months.

They aren’t all heated, but each certainly had the potential to go that way on the bad days.

I remember one recent incident when his friend came over to our place for a stay-over and we ended up quarreling over the enforced screen time limits, which I made clear applied to his friend too. My son was upset I was artificially changing the house rules on the spot in some desperate attempt to ensure their screen time doesn’t balloon.

I’ll admit that there’s certainly some truth to his assertion. Guess I had momentarily panicked and didn’t want to show it. Not a pretty parenting moment, but hey, I’m still learning on the job. Hence the need to attend parenting talks and workshops

Could I have managed it better? Certainly.

Hopefully, some coping mechanisms shared at the workshop will inform how I handle future similar occasions.

What mechanisms?

Check back here again for the next installment in this parenting mini-series ok? I’ll reveal them then!

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