Bright-eyed to moody, bubbly to reclusive and spontaneous to conscious– these are some of the common changes kids go through during adolescence. For dads, it is the start of some serious hair-pulling times.
Granted, some of us will have it easier than others, but one thing for certain is that things will change in ways that we will -like it or not- have to get used to.
“When little, their physical and audible presence was unavoidable but when they became teens, it’s like they’ve become invisible members of the family,” laments Adrian George, a 49-year-old civil engineer and father of two teenage boys aged 14 and 17.
It can be disheartening for some, unsettling for others and downright frustrating for most. Often referred to amongst dads as the anti-social zombie syndrome, experts however, have a nicer name for it – teenage withdrawal – the masked tension from a child’s attempt to find his place in the bigger scheme of things.
According to Karen Sik, a Senior Psychologist at the Clinical and Forensic Psychology Branch of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), there are various reasons for this.
She says, “It could be anything from not feeling accepted or understood by their family or peers, low self-esteem or even a relationship that they are embarrassed to talk about. At times they could even be suffering from depression or other mental health concerns.”
Times of Change
“Every teenager is unique but all experience bodily changes they have no control over. For instance, hormonal surges of puberty can affect their state of mind, sometimes resulting in mood swings,” Sik explains
She adds, “Now more capable of higher levels of thinking and cognitive reasoning, a teenager is emotionally moving away from being dependent on parents and towards becoming a more autonomous adult.”
Philip Ang, Life Coach, Motivation For Life, who has worked with teenagers for over 16 years, feels it also has to do with them finding their identities.
He says, “It’s common these days for teens to be absorbed in their own private world so that they can think about their lives and roles. It’s also a time when they begin to value their personal space and privacy more.”
We only have to look at our own teenage years – the confusion, distress and sometimes angst – to understand that it can be a very overwhelming period. Remember the exaggerated bouts of self-consciousness and self-doubting?
Many of us recall our fathers as silent figure-heads of the family. While we are more hands-on dads these days, some things never change – like the nods of approval and gentle smiles which teenagers tend to cherish.
Ang says, “Teens look more to their fathers for approval, and gain confidence when they get it. But they also look to their fathers as models on how to behave in society.”
So the message is for dads to be mindful of how they present themselves – talking and treating others – when their kids are around. Teenagers are a highly emotional bunch but often, they are also easily influenced.
“Fathers tend to be under a teen’s spotlight so they must learn to control their anger and frustration and as much as possible, maintain calm and control even when dishing out discipline or faced with crisis,” adds Ang.
And if the teen is a boy, the examples from a father are more pronounced. Besides the common biological identity and thus, closer levels of empathy, they will also look to their fathers as a masculine role model – a representation of what ‘manliness’ should encompass. Invariably, this will shape how they grow up as men, husbands and fathers themselves.
Answers & Acceptance
Considering how small the world has since become through information technology, and how easy it is to stumble on others’ views through blogs and social networking platforms, teens are invariably left with more questions than answers.
George mulls, “It’s great when you are the centre of their world and someone they turn to for advice. As teens, they are somehow reluctant to come to you because they think you won’t understand them. So they spend a lot of time finding answers outside the family.”
According to Sik, at times teenagers may question values they have been raised up on and even rebel against parental authority by staying out late or locking themselves in their rooms. They may appear argumentative, critical and indifferent.
Like everyone, teens want acceptance and approval from those around them. If they don’t get it from us, they will get it elsewhere. And we all know how that story often ends.
Sik offers, “Giving a high-five, a praising tap on the shoulder or a brief hug are powerful ways of showing affection and approval to a teen. It also helps to maintain a positive relationship.”
Getting On His Team
While we are not always expected to approve of our teen’s behaviour, it does not mean that we cannot empathise with their feelings. To get on their sides, they have to know that we can be turned to whenever problems arise. This requires open communication channels and trust.
“Listen to what they have to say and fight the urge to lecture, interrogate or adopt an authoritarian approach. Otherwise, they will build a psychological block. Talk about their interests and where possible, join in his activities or just do stuff together,” advises Ang.
When you express curiosity about their interests and want to know more about them, you are sending the message that they are important and valued. The important thing is not to have any hidden agendas such as to drum in expectations, instil value systems or emphasise academic responsibilities.
“Balance time out for each and be open about it. Otherwise, he will be suspicious the next time you come into his room and offer to spend time with him,” says Ang.
“Both parents bring valuable attributes to the parenting table but for a teenage son, what he gains most from his father is learning about his masculine role in society and the responsibilities that go along with it.
Ultimately, our teens will change and unless we change to adapt, it will lead to a very strained father-teen relationship. We can certainly influence their lives and arm them with the proper decision-making skills but accept that the choice is still theirs to make.
Your pointer on the fatherhood satisfaction scale may dip to its lowest during this stage but recoiling in frustration is about the worst thing you can do. Grab the challenge by the scruff of the neck (not your teen's!). There is no reason why fatherhood cannot thrive in these times of change.
|Rules of Teen Engagement
• Don’t talk down to them or belittle them.
• Don’t be overly harsh or authoritarian with your teenage boys. Research has shown that when fathers engaged in harsh parenting, children (especially boys) exhibited more aggression and delinquency.
• Don’t neglect them. Research has shown that if fathers are involved, children have less behavioural problems such as stealing, truancy, running away, defiance, and are less likely to get into trouble with the police.
About the Author: The DadsforLife Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.