by Dr. Shanthi Thomas
Slammed doors. Desperate yelling and tears. Eye-rolling and verbal fights.
We are indeed talking about the stereotypical rebellious teenage daughter, as portrayed in movies and T.V shows. And, as parents with teenage girls know, there is some truth in such portrayal. The physical developments that signal the beginning of puberty can trigger self-esteem and body image issues. Mood swings may become common. In addition, the area of the brain that controls judgment and decision-making, the prefrontal cortex, is not developed until one reaches the 20’s. All this explains the turmoil well, but how to deal with it?
In other words, do not take the rebellious behaviour personally. Take it as what it is: the desperate attempts at self-expression of an adolescent forging her own path through life. Disagreeing with parents and rebelling against parental control is part of them developing their own identity. The intense biological shifts they experience at this age are responsible for the difficult behaviour.
Create limits and boundaries. For example, ‘no physical violence allowed in the house’, whatever be the trigger. If your daughter crosses such boundaries, she has to face certain consequences. The consequences should be something that she feels the impact of, for example, taking away the Wi-Fi connection, or refusing to give the pocket money. Keep in mind that the consequences she has to face should be proportionate to the offence. Punishment that is too harsh may produce the opposite effect.
If you catch your daughter doing well in something, reward her with a good word or a pat on the back. Sometimes, the positive behaviour can be a very casual, often overlooked act such as helping to clear the table after meals. Or it could be the incremental progress she makes in her studies, such as getting higher marks in an exam compared to a previous attempt. Improvements in any area, be it behaviour or academics, should be appreciated heartily.
For adolescents, friends are the world. In fact, being closer to friends than with family members is one of the first steps in her journey to be independent. They might like to watch a movie with their friends, not with family members. This is very painful to parents, but one has to be aware that this is part of the healthy and natural development of the person.
Adolescent girls try to express their individuality in different ways: some like to dye their hair, some others get a new piercing. Many listen to songs that their parents would not really like. The best way to handle this is to let go and let her have some control over her body and her environment. The conflict is often most evident in choosing clothes to wear. Many mothers and their daughters are at loggerheads when it comes to what to wear and what not to wear. It takes a lot of patience and adaptability on the part of the parents at this stage.
Body image and self-esteem issues can be kept in check if your teen daughter makes it a habit to exercise every day. Teenagers get rebellious sometimes because of unhappiness. Exercising every day is the proven way to trigger our body’s production of feel-good hormones called endorphins, boosting one’s self confidence and aiding better sleep. A mentally and physically healthy adolescent is less likely to be overly rebellious.
Generally speaking, the more ‘difficult’ a child is, the more love she needs. It is when your daughter is at her nastiest that she needs your love the most. The emotional turbulence she experiences can only be soothed by your acceptance and love of her. Make it a daily practice to tell her that you love her, with a pat on her forehead and a kiss. They long for it, even if they may not admit it.
You are not alone. There are so many parents around you who have travelled the same journey, or are doing so now. So, ask for help, and find out how others are dealing with their troubles. If at any time you feel unable to handle your teenager any more, ask for professional help. Many of the conflicts between adolescents and their parents have their roots in negative communication patterns. A counsellor can identify destructive and negative behaviour patterns that may exist in your family, and help to correct it.
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