A guide to teenagers from this century for parents from the last century.
Everytime I sit down with someone from my parents’ generation, ineveitably they end up asking me why today’s generation always seem to have an issue for everything, parenting being a major one. They ask me how come all of a sudden we are diagnosing our children with issues like ADHD, self harm, depression, suicidal, addiction and so on. All I tell them that times have changed and every year it feels like things are progressing even faster. Our minds and bodies are not designed to keep up with the way the world is progressing exceedingly fast.
Parenting has indeed become a huge challenge. I have clients who are complaining about their parents not being there for them. I have parents who are complaining that their teenaged children are cut off from them. There is a communication gap, a technology gap, an age gap, basically “everything” gap.
Technology and social media is one aspect of any teens’ life that has accelerated the pace of life of a boy or a girl. Depression is being diagnosed in children as young as thirteen. There are teenagers who are on medications: antidepressants, mood stabilizers, sleeping pills. There are teenagers who are feeling the pressure to keep up with the idea of a perfect body, perfect lifestyle and a perfect face. For the teenagers, “once trust in your parent evaporates, it can be a difficult thing to restore, and it’s a dangerous thing for teenager to rty and cope without that lifeline.” (page 6)
Parents feel the challenge as to how to maintain the bridge between them and their teenaged children. One parent even asked me what Snapchat is, and how her kids don’t tell the mom what it is. Another asked me how his children have blocked both dad and mom on Facebook. Parents are not even aware that their childern have separate accounts. “The problem with ignoring the fact that kids are going to gravitate towards certain things – drugs, sex, stealing Mars bars from supermarkets- is that they are going to get guidance about it from somewhere, and if it isn’t from you, it might prove dangerous.” (page 5)
This is where Ben Brooks comes in with his genius book.
This is truly a book every parent should read.
He breaks it down into the following lessons:
A brilliant chapter on how teenagers are addicted to their phones and apps like Youtube. It’s important for parents to read up on how technology works. Many hand over mobile phones and ipads without thinking of the consequences, and then they wonder where children are picking up ideas from. He gives some great examples on how to understand electronic gadgets and their functions, and how to better control gadgets when giving them to children.
Brooks talks about the internet and social media is contributing towards the children’s mental health and increases stress. This chapters helps parents see how social media is designed to captivate and lure children into addiction, thereby causing increased stress levels. Communication between the parents and children become all the more important especially around depression and anxiety. Don’t just talk about it, explore it, talk deeply, understand them, give them space, be there for them. “We need to change how kids view mental illness and start finding ways to to rearrange their lives in order to protect them from it.” (page 70).
Thanks to easy access to technology, it’s all the more important for parents to be aware of what friends their children are making online. Teenagers will often explore romantic and sexual relationships online. Catfishing, deception and fantasies are all part of online relationships. Parents need to help their children understand boundaries.
Understanding the complexities of the internet is all the more important now for parents. What is a VPN? How can your teen erase internet browser history? How can they bypass proxies? What is the Dark Web? And why you should be worried if your teen is gambling online. “You cannot protect your child from seeing and hearing terrible things; you can only protect them from getting lost amongst them.” (page 115). Children also give in to the temptation for control and revenge that is easily available for them on the internet- hence blackmailing, school shootings etc. Brooks siggest that the way out of this is to maintain a re-connection with your teen.
“The distance and depersonalisation created by the internet can turn us into unrecognizable monsters.” (page 140). Parents need to be able to teach their teens the skill of critical thinking, to be able to assess and judge any situation, for their own safety.
We can’t stop our children from experimenting with alcohol, drugs, medication. But we can educate them. “But parents, too, have a responsibiloty to be truthful and open minded if they want a teenager to listen to them, let alone be open with them about what’s going through their mind when it comes to these things.” (page 175). Don’t overreact if you find out when your teen is drinking or doing drugs, instead be calm. Be there for them. Be empathetic. Understand them.
“The average age at which men first watched porn was ten.” (page 201). Again, don’t overreact if you find out your child is watching porn. “The real way to bring about change is to counteract the fantasy of it with some more realiztic expectations.” (page 205). “It is inevitable teenagers will watch porn. It is not inevitable that they believe it resembles real sex.” (page 210).
“For teenagers, the body is often the biggest source of pain and confusion, the main focus of time and attention, and a gallery space for exhibition of rebellion.” (page 221). Today is an age where young people are very self conscious: their looks are very important to them. Social media isn’t helping them much with keeping a healthy attitude about their looks, instead it tells them they have to look a certain way in order to be validated and accepted. Parents, know who your kids are following on Instagram!
Teenagers do self harm. Some of the reasons may be: Inadequacy, Control, Escape, Chemical Release and Attention. Self harm always mean something. Parents, stay calm. You have to be there for your teen. Don’t overreact. Understand them. Don’t judge them.
Teenagers will think about suicide if they have no connection to self, to parents, to purpose. “The best way is to try and instil in your kids easrly on the idea that thoughts often have little connection to reality.” (page 266). “The most helpful think you could do as a parent is de-romanticise suicide.” (page 273). Parents can discourage excessive isolation, encourage exercise and keep an eye out for any changes.
“The best way to teach people is to get them to think for themselves. You can change their mind by encouraging them to dig deeper, question more, and learn to think for themselves.” (page 283). A study has shown that children who have an internal locus of control lead happier lives. Locus of control is developed based on the relationships children have with their parents. “When the parents encourage a child’s independence, and teach them relationship between cause and effect, they are more likely to develop an internal locus of control.” (page 286).
It can feel extremely daunting to be a parent in today’s age and time. It can feel stressful and scary. But it can also be rewarding. Parenting is a responsibility. It is a job. It is a challenge, and the rewards of having a secure parent-child relationship can be extremely rewarding.
This book is recommended reading for parents who are struggling with teens, and for therapists who are working with adolescence or parents. I have personally used several ideas from this book to help me with couple of the teens I am working with in the therapy room and it has worked wonders. I have also helped some parents rewire their parenting patterns with their children and am happy to say things have progressed for them as a family.