Dealing with Teen Challenges

Dealing with Teen Challenges

Adolescence is the period of a child’s life that follows the onset of puberty and can range from ages 10 to 19. During this period, tweens and teens experience rapid physical, cognitive, and psychosocial growth. The growth we see on the outside as they mature can also be symbolic of the growth that is taking place on the inside. During this period, there are also increased decisions to make, increased pressures and expectations, increased independence, and search for self. 

The transition from childhood into adulthood can be daunting for youth and that means, by extension, it can be daunting for parents, too. Here are six steps we can take to support the growth, development, and blossoming of our adolescent children into healthy and productive adults.

1. Understand the stage.

Most parents are well aware of what adolescence feels like, because … well, we've all been through it at one point in time!  So questioning why a teen is behaving in a certain way is not particularly productive. The first and most important step is to recognize and acknowledge the anticipated changes at this stage of their lives before we can go on to support and address them. Once the acceptance is there, a parent will automatically observe that their perspective  changes altogether.

2. Pay close attention to behavior.

It is imperative that as parents and the rightful guardians of our children, we objectively observe their behaviors (without any personal biases) and generally be aware. This simply means that rather than focusing explicitly on the outward appearance and behavior, we make a conscious effort to be in tune with their feelings, concerns, and needs and also look out for underlying signs and symptoms that can be red flags for bigger issues. Here are some indicators that there may be more going: 

  • A significant change in outwardly appearance or behaviors 
    • Understand that this could be due to challenges that the child is facing:
      • in his/her social circle (in terms of acceptance as part of a certain group)
      • at school level (in terms of academic achievements) 
      • in an effort to strike the right balance between family life, social engagements (owing to fear of missing out), school and/or extracurricular activities

 A special call for attention is needed if these changes are accompanied in any form with signs of self-harm, substantial weight gain/loss or an exaggerated level of peer influence.

  • An escalation in outbursts 
    • These could be in the form of, but not restricted to:
      • anger, frustration and/or arguments
      • noticeable violence at home towards siblings
      • getting into fights outside of the home and breaking laws

All of the above apply in context to when they go over and beyond the normal threshold of arguments which otherwise tend to get resolved quickly.

  • Rapid changes concerning emotional health and well-being
    • These are most commonly (but not always) associated with:
      • mood changes, including persistent sadness, anxiety, frustration
      • a decline in academic performance and grades, even failing at a certain subject
      • sleep related problems (such as the development of insomnia or an unusual sleep cycle)
      • changes in personality reflected in the modification of things that bring pleasure, joy, sadness, and/or sensitivity
  • Inclined curiosity toward self-harm 
    • Parents should be watchful of any signs leading to experimenting with substances like;
    • Hookah/Sheesha
    • Drugs (over the counter, prescription or illegal substances)
    • Alcohol
    • Signs of cutting or bodily harm
  • Noticeable changes in friend's circles
    • This is especially true with the onset of new friendships that encourage risky behavior.
    • Loss of old friends (distancing away from peers/groups)

3. Support your teen.

When we recognize the underlying issues contributing to the many changes, we automatically develop a respect for the needs of our children. Another crucial step towards supporting our teens is to understand the stage of teenagehood, which is rather overwhelming for the teens themselves. It's the stage where the child is neither completely independent nor still too young to be forced to comply. 

Here are some aspects to take into consideration when seeking to understand.

  • Empathize: Empathy goes a long way towards keeping you connected. Parents of teens must bear in mind that with all those hormonal spikes, things can get increasingly complex for your child. Situations or arguments may escalate quickly out of hand because teens find it particularly difficult to self-regulate their emotions and articulate their feelings.
  • Acknowledge: As discussed earlier, acknowledgment comes through recognition. And, again, we need to pay due respect to the fact that these changes are tough on our teens, too! For one thing, parents need to modify their approach and come to terms with the fact that our children are growing up in a different era and are faced with different challenges altogether. So there is definitely a need to update our ideas in order to acknowledge the changes in them and bridge the gap successfully.
  • Recognize cultural influences: The environment and culture which we are surrounded by, surely has an impact on each one of us. Teens are no different. Since they are actively in search of their own unique identity, they tend to seek validation from those belonging to a similar age bracket. They become more easily influenced by their peers and in the process may adopt alien beliefs and practices (which again could only be temporary).

4. Deal thoughtfully with anger and frustration.

Anger is an emotional response, which means that it is only temporary. Here are a few strategies to consider associated with frustration and anger.  

  • Keep your calm. 

More often than not, teenage children tend to overreact and then recognize the mistake afterward (although they may not express it by way of a verbal apology). So , give your child some time to cool off after having an emotional meltdown. The best way to deal with it would be to stay calm yourself during the outburst because you need to remember that as a parent you are also serving as a role model for your child. 

  • Do not indulge in confrontation in the heat of the moment

Let the moment pass. Address the issue later in a more receptive moment and often indirectly. Use this time to find out the reasons which triggered the behavior and also self-reflect. Recognize those and then address the issue at hand.

  • Find alternative and healthy ways to relieve anger

Teenage life is full of hormonal changes. Teenage boys, in particular, have pent-up energy which, if not handled properly, comes out in the form of outbursts, rage and anger. Exercise can be a wonderful way to effectively deal with this pent-up energy – running, biking, sports, gym, swimming, etc. can help create a healthy outlet for their pent-up emotions.

Check out another Sound Vision article on Anger Management for Muslim Parents and Teens

5. Open the door for communication.

It is essential to keep the doorway open for communication at all times. The child must never feel that they cannot approach you about any topic. Regardless of how big their mistake may be, knowing that Allah can forgive, who are we to not? 

However, there are some things parents must be mindful of in order to set their authoritative tone;

  • Establish boundaries, rules, and consequences.

Stepping into adulthood calls for the realization that actions have consequences. This requires clear communication from authoritative figures, i.e. parents, educators, and the like. In the absence of a foundational structure of boundaries and rules, children are bound to be misled. Hence, it is crucial to establish firm boundaries and rules and make our children aware of natural consequences at every stage of their lives. This does not have to be done in a manner where you place the child on 'gun point', as that would only nurture rebelliousness. Rather, these issues need to be addressed in a loving way (as family rules), without putting the spotlight on the child.

  • Make room for healthier dispositions
    • You may choose to take this up in a strategic manner. For instance,
      • Instead of making demands, ask for their input and help.
      • If they make a mistake, challenge the act rather than the individual. 
      • Invite them to participate in crafting meaningful solutions.
      • Offer them clear choices. 

6. Connect on a deeper level.

Even though teenagers may seem to be distancing themselves from us as they seek more independence, parents should continue to look out for opportunities to spend quality time together.  Keep these tips in mind:

  • Find common ground: Find that one safe topic that you can talk to your teen about and build upon it.
  • Expect rejection: Your attempts to connect may be viewed skeptically or be rejected. Stay relaxed and give your teen some time and space until you can make another attempt at engaging with them.
  • Listen without judgments: Do not go about correcting your child when he starts to speak to you. Offer your advice only when they ask for it. 
  • Create structure: Help your teen learn how to balance their life by making some rules that are applicable not just to him but everyone in the family. For e.g., no skipping regular mealtimes with family, a fixed bedtime, devoted family time, and so on. 
  • Connect spiritually: Take every opportunity to pray together, attend jummuah prayers at the masjid, read from the Quran, learn from the Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, attend classes or halaqahs together. 

In conclusion, it is important to remember that there are joys and challenges in every stage of a child’s development. As parents we need to muster the skills and resources to deal with every aspect of it. Our children are an amana or trust from Allah and our responsibility is to raise them with hikmah or wisdom that is gleaned from the guidance and mercy that Allah provides. We can reference good role models for ourselves in the lives of the prophets, especially from the seerah of our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and the sahabah, our pious predecessors. And we can and should also make duaa for Allah’s assistance in our parenting and for protection for our children. 

There is a beautiful duaa from Surah Al-Ahqaf, ayah 15 which seems fitting.

"My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to work righteousness of which You will approve and make righteous for me my offspring. Indeed, I have repented to You, and indeed, I am of the Muslims." (Surah al-Ahqaf 46:15)

Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and writer who is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it onto others. She and her husband are parents to three boys and are currently living in Abu Dhabi.

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