Navigating your child’s adolescence

As a practicing psychologist, Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., thought he understood all the physical and emotional changes that mark the beginning of adolescence. But then a 13-year-old patient taught him a lesson.

When Pickhardt asked the boy how he knew adolescence had begun, he said, “Because of how my parents have changed!”

That response transformed Pickhardt’s view of adolescence, as he explains in Who Stole My Child? Parenting Through the Four Stages of Adolescence (Central Recovery Press, 2018). “From then on, I have tried to remember that adolescence is not simply about how a child changes on the way to adulthood,” he writes. “It is also about how the parent changes in response, and how the parent/adolescent relationship alters as well.”

Scouting magazine recently caught up with Pickhardt to learn how parents can navigate the choppy waters of what he calls “the harder half of parenting.” Here are three suggestions.

From Control to Contracts

As your child moves into adolescence, the words “because I said so” carry less weight. Pickhardt recommends creating a “freedom contract” with your emerging adolescent that covers six responsibilities: telling the truth, making a contribution, honoring commitments, showing maturity, practicing availability and demonstrating civility.

When your adolescent fulfills these obligations, you can grant some of the freedom he or she wants.

“And if your teenager, not meeting some provision, vows to mend his ways if only you will let him have some urgent freedom now, explain that you only bargain with performance, never with promises,” Pickhardt says.

From Worry to Wisdom

Parents of adolescents are born worriers, but Pickhardt says it’s important not to become a slave to your fears.

“Dysfunctional fear is giving in to constant anxiety in the face of normal changes, which does no one any good; better to have functional worry, helping the young person think ahead by asking ‘What if?’ and ‘Just suppose,’ ” he says. “It’s easy for the adolescent, embedded in pleasure and temptation now, to ignore possible future consequences. Functional worry by parents can help the young person factor in risks that come with growing adventures.”

From Grief to Glory

As the title of Pickhardt’s book implies, adolescence “steals” your child; you will never have that adoring and adorable boy or girl around anymore.

But you’re not the only one facing a loss.

“At the same time, the adolescent is struggling with two losses: They will never have their idealized parents again, and they will have to start letting go of beloved kid stuff, childhood objects and activities that they still treasure,” Pickhardt says. “So there is grief on both sides of the relationship when the separation from childhood begins the coming-of-age journey of adolescence.”

The key, he says, is to mourn and then move on.

“Be grateful for the gifts of this precious time,” he says. “Then let it go and embrace the equally magical journey of helping a little girl grow into a young woman and a little boy grow into a young man.”

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