Your child’s belief systems, emotions, and attitudes are as important as any other part of their personality.
Teenagers are a challenge, no doubt about it. Your son is no longer a little boy, and he’s leaving aside some of those things you loved about him from his childhood. And your little girl is becoming a woman. So it’s time to adapt to the behaviors, beliefs, and values that will consolidate their identity as an adult.
Sometimes these behaviors can cross a line, since they are going through a “crisis of values,” but don’t panic: this is a normal and necessary situation for their development. They need to grow and mature in order to become an adult.
To help them forge their personality, grow in self-esteem, and become respectful, tolerant adults with a sense of solidarity, teenagers need understanding and sensitivity from the adults who surround them at this key moment in their lives.
Educating our children’s emotional intelligence is critically important. We need to help them develop affectivity — aspects of their personality that include belief systems, emotions and attitudes. These will all have a direct bearing on their human, intellectual, academic, social, and religious development.
Here are a few basic tips:
1. Know your teen
We need to know our teens and accept them as they are. Use their contradictions and capacities to teach them, starting with respect for their personal uniqueness.
Many teens have traits that can seem contradictory (and this is not abnormal). When teens gather in discussion groups for a psychological study, they see themselves as competitive, irresponsible, hedonistic, consumeristic, unmotivated by academics, lovers of instant gratification, and yet marked by a sense of solidarity, with strong friendship bonds and a feeling of comraderie.
Psychology also shows that teens are interested in daily events and in whatever is immediate and useful for their own life. They want to live life now, because they are in search of emotions; but when facing the challenge of building their own future, they also have aspirations and great expectations: they want to find love, form a family, have a good job, get social and economic status, and so on.
On the other hand, a transcendent aspect for their maturity is that during this stage, they begin to exercise their freedom, becoming more independent in the way they dress, the friends they choose, and the activities they do. They are often worried about the implications and future consequences of their decisions.
2. Offer them emotional security
Young people facing an uncertain future need to feel secure, because many of them are afraid of making a mistake in their decisions.
Adolescents are especially sensitive, so we as adults need to give them a stable, serene, and balanced set of emotions. This brings many benefits, and can help them develop a mature personality.
It’s important for parents to know that their role is key for their children to be able to develop this balance, since they are the ones who teach them how to channel their tensions and handle conflicts. When they have to choose how to act in a given situation or under certain pressure, the parents can help them to analyze the possible consequences of their behavior.
It’s also very good to offer them the right physical conditions at home so that they can reflect in peace and discover their own interior.
3. Distinguish sentiments from emotions
Parents have to know the difference between these two aspects of their kids’ emotional world in order to help them in their education and development.
Sentiments are social moods influenced by the environment: lifestyles, norms, customs, habits… Emotions are individual changes of mood that arise from the way an individual understands and reacts to a given situation or event.
To help them, give them an open door for communication. Give them your time and interest. Then you will be able to understand what they are going through, without having to accept everything indiscriminately.
4. Be a positive role model
The way the parents behave is a major pillar for how children will turn out.
Parents influence their kids all through their childhood, adolescence, and youth. They are the child’s role models. So the parents must often go against the current and not let themselves be dragged along by what everyone else is doing, or by whatever is trending at the moment.
5. Teach them to say “no”
There are many occasions when it will be important to say “no” to your child. We have to teach our teens to give up not only illicit pleasures, but also short-term licit ones that could be harmful in the near future.
Saying “no” and teaching your teen to say “no” will help them to distinguish between what is permitted and what is more convenient at each moment. This requires effort, a lot of effort on the part of the parents. Of course, the comfortable option is just to say “yes” to whatever the kids want, even if we know it’s not good for them from a moral, psychological, or social standpoint.
Affective education is not just about giving in to every superfluous and unjustified whim, nor is it about being too hard and harsh. Both authoritarian and indulgent parents do kids harm. The golden middle of authoritative parenting is about offering them balance and reasonable limits.
Raising kids is a beautiful mission but it’s not easy or comfortable, since it means loving and giving yourself day by day to the beloved — in this case, the child and the teenager, and it takes effort and renunciation on our part too.
Article written in collaboration with Javier Fiz Pérez, psychologist and professor of psychology at the European University of Rome, delegate for International Scientific Development, and head of the Scientific Development Area of the European Institute of Positive Psychology (IEPP).
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley testify before the House Appropriations Committee-Defense on the Fiscal 2022 Department of Defense Budget in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room, Washington, D.C., May 27, 2021. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase)