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Relationships - November 2012

It could be you ....

 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers. 

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.

 


Are they truly Zombies?

Many parents, when their children become teenagers, find that they face a worrying new challenge. For grandparents, watching from a safe distance, the symptoms in both parents and offspring will bring back vivid memories.

Parents often wonder how to get their child “back to normal”, but for a teenager, to sleep until midday and then come alive at ten in the evening, is normal.

Also, teenagers feel awkward about their parents, being with them, going on holiday with them – such occasions feel to them like the childhood they want to leave behind. And they can be devastating in their assessments of their family, much preferring to be with their own peer group.

It can be really troubling to see a once open, lively and interested son or daughter, involved in family activities, become sullen, bored by being with family, forever tired, forever late for school or college. Parents find it hard to understand these symptoms of their children’s need to move on from childhood things.

In this situation, grandparents can help a lot. They can remind exasperated parents that when they were teenagers, they behaved just as their children are behaving now. So they needn’t tear their hair out - if any is left! - because this phase will pass. Cajoling, bribing or yelling won’t make a scrap of difference.

And, no longer having the day-to-day stresses of a home, grandparents can have a different, a calmer, relationship with the young. They can discuss difficulties in a less charged way and offer fresh insights and suggestions for doing things differently.

The typical teenager is passing through one of the most tiring and confusing periods of life - neither child nor adult, he or she seeks to deflect the inevitable anxieties by affecting an air of ‘cool’, nonchalance, a 'couldn't care less' attitude which is all but guaranteed to provoke parents’ anxieties in turn.

Family life may well have been happy and loving but to teenagers who feel the need to make the break from the home and parents, it looks as if the best course is to regard their own adulthood as the grass that’s greener on the other side. They can then seem to disconnect in whole or part from the mores and values which, until now, they have absorbed unquestioningly from their parents. Now all is questioned - or even rubbished. Tact only comes later. They see everything from a new angle, often from the standpoint of a new social group with whom they identify. And unfortunately, for a while at least, parental values seem old-fashioned, out of date or just plain wrong. And that’s when the going can get particularly rough. Parents not merely feel hurt but concerned that all their teaching has been rejected and might even fear that their child is no longer safe.

It is real rejection too, rejection of everything that reminds a teenager of being a child. But that won't mean he or she has lost all that’s important and influential, just that they’re endeavouring to shed one image to make room for a more mature one. If the parents or significant adults have given the child a secure, loving upbringing and have tried to show their child, as much by example as by instruction, how to be caring, considerate and industrious, then those values will be embedded for life. By the time young people have gone through this metamorphosis of teenage years, they will be using what they’ve been shown without even realising it comes from their upbringing.

It’s important to consider physical as well as emotional aspects of the transition. In the United States, many schools start as early as 7.20 a.m. and, after school finishes in the early afternoon, they come home with a pile of homework. But given the physical balance peculiar to the teenager, to allow for the process of hormonal change, the body needs at least nine hours of undisturbed sleep. So how useful is it to push teenage brains into action when they’re still in deep sleep mode? One teenager recently told the Wall Street Journal that he found it difficult to get the 10 hours of sleep he needed, not only because of homework but also extra-curricular music and sports. My American grand-daughter, who gets up at 6.30 a.m. to be at her first lesson on time, said it not only feels like the middle of the night but it puts her off eating, the one activity guaranteed to help the body cope. She often struggles to stay alert in class and falls asleep doing homework.

In some schools which changed to a later start, there was a significant rise in alertness and improved academic results.

A key problem nowadays is that, so often, young people have television and other electronic gear in the bedroom. They need to be strong-willed enough to stop using it at least an hour before settling down to sleep. Otherwise, the body fights to keep going, overriding the consequent stress but eventually slowing to a point where they feel grouchy and exhausted. Teenagers need to know how to work out a regime that allows for enough sleep.

Parents who tell a teenager that lack of sleep can lead to spottier skin (because a tired body cannot balance hormones correctly or utilise vitamins well) or that it can promote obesity or depression, will carry more sway with the socially aspiring young person, but they shouldn’t forget that insisting that they know best may be counter-productive. It’s often wise to minimise expectations of having flowing conversations with your teenager. The monosyllable rules!

Between parents and grandparents, most teenagers will have enough family members to help them understand the facts and what they’re experiencing. Along with plenty of varied support, they'll be better able to control their surroundings and so give themselves the best chance of coming unscathed through the emotional rapids and physical doldrums of the teenage years.



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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