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Unlocking Your Teenager: Tackling The Greys

By Jyotika Aggarwal, Clinical Psychologist


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Jyotika Aggarwal
Clinical Psychologist


March 11, 2019

Communication is the key that unlocks your teenager. How it is important to listen, respond positively and share your own anxieties with them. However, despite their best efforts, there are bound to be instances in every parent’s life that take their words and breath away, when they are at a loss as to how to respond: the so-called grey areas where the line between the acceptable and unacceptable blur, and it looks as if all the good work that has so far been put in will be undone.

Imagine this. You are aware that your teenage daughter is sweet on a boy who used to be in her class. In fact, she is quite comfortable discussing him with you. As a reasonable parent, you are aware that this is an inevitable part of growing up and treat it as such. They have hung out a few times with your permission, but always as part of a group. Today, however, she tells you that she wants to spend the day with him, at his place this time as his parents are away.

“Who else is going with you?” you ask cautiously.

“No one. It’s going to be just the two of us,” comes the hesitant reply. “Ryan is leaving Dubai soon, and he wants us to spend some time together…alone.”

Two eighteen-year-olds spending time alone has its implications. You can hear warning bells ringing in your head.

“But you know—”

“Mom, we love each other. I know he’s the one for me,” she says with finality.

As a parent, you are terrified. You understand what your daughter is talking about, but it is difficult for you to accept. A hundred worries come to mind. “Is he a good person?” you wonder. “My daughter is still a child; is he right for her? What if she is under pressure – from him or their friends?” If you belong to a collectivist culture where premarital intimacy is frowned upon, there are additional worries. You also wonder how this is going to affect her life, her standing in the extended family and society.

However, your overarching concern remains her well-being. You strongly believe that she is not emotionally ready for such a commitment, and you want to protect her from the consequences.

It is, however, not easy to communicate that to your child. “At this point, the last thing you want to do is to make a false move, which will make her clam up or become hostile,”Understand that at that age, their hormones are raging. They are just discovering themselves and their body, finding love, and building relationships that may or may not last in the long run. A desire to be accepted and loved by a partner, which also involves intimacy, is normal.”

That said, as a parent, it is also your duty to have a conversation with her about the seriousness of the step she is about to undertake. “Take a deep breath, sit down, and buy time. Allow yourself to think and formulate a reasonable response. It's better to take a little time than to blurt out your anxieties.” Ask for a glass of water, sip it slowly, think fast and hard. An impulsive response, like getting outraged or dismissing her request as silly or impossible, can break the fragile bond of communication that you have worked hard to establish. After all, she trusts you enough to be honest with you. Next time she may not, which will be infinitely worse.”

“Be considerate and empathetic. Validate her emotions. Tell her you to understand she is in love, and that you are happy for her.” “Talk to her about what it means to her, what she feels about this step. Ask her if this is what she wants. Give her the option of maybe waiting a little more before going all the way. Speak to her about the implications of the step she is about to take. But do it rationally, and not in an emotional, judgmental manner.”

“Teenagers are often extremely insecure. It is possible that your daughter is worried that if she refuses him, he may leave her. Assure her that it need not be so, and ask her to speak to him. Empower her.”

Don’t speak directly to the boy. “Unless you sense that he poses some kind of threat or harm to your daughter, don’t intervene. Guide her, but give her the chance to handle the situation in her own way. The fact that you trust her enough to do that will make her think better of herself and you, and give her the confidence she needs.”

Being reasonable, empathetic and considerate can go a long way in any situation, but more so when handling such delicate situations with your teenager. Easier said than done, of course. But then, who said being a parent is easy?

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