The teenage years seem to start earlier than 13 these days, in fact so early that the phrase “tweenager” has been coined to describe a child entering this stage of adolescence.
From a parent’s point of view all we see is our little baby girl or boy disagreeing and arguing with us more than they’ve ever done before. It feels like a stranger has moved in.
This is a global phenomenon – we’ve all seen the Harry Enfield sketch, “it’s so unfair, I hate you.” But Alfred Gull, a counsellor at the German Neuroscience Center with 30 years’ experience in helping and supporting adolescents says it can be even more challenging for children living overseas.
“Expat kids have to face a situation where they are together with many people from all over the world from different countries, different cultures, and different religions, which means they have to deal with the fact that they are different from others on a daily basis,” explains Gull.
“Then comes puberty with all the changes, and they realise they all of a sudden become different from the way they were before. All of this causes an even more profound identity crisis than teenagers who live in their home country are facing.”
So we all know our child goes through this huge transformation from sweet, willing, happy little person to a stroppy, self-conscious, moody adolescent. But what actually happens?
“When our children hit their teens, they become curious, a lot happens, and it definitely happens for them at different times. Teenagers often do not know what to expect and what we expect from them,” Gull says.
Gull points out that they become scared about falling behind their peers and being laughed at if they develop signs of puberty earlier or later than others – and this makes them feel vulnerable and anxious about being judged.
“Since social media became so popular, they also compare themselves with influencers, who are often creating an inaccurate picture of the truth. This pressure is one reason why they start comparing themselves to others,” Gull adds.
So teen angst (anxiety) is a real thing and something not to be scoffed at.
“Uncertainty and insecurity dominate teenagers’ whole lives,” says Gull.
“Anxiety is compounded by the worry of being judged by others and not being ready to stand up for themselves. The feeling of not having control of their own life and not knowing what the future brings for them scares many of them.”
As parents it’s hard to deal with what feels like rejection, but it’s imperative that mums and dads don’t take the changes in their children’s behaviour, and even being pushed away, too personally.
If children push their parents away, they are often checking to see how much they are loved, and want to know if their parents are going to fight for them and their love.
“It is natural for children – who are forming their identity – to occasionally cross the line. It’s essential not to make a big fuss of this behaviour,” warns Gull.
Instead, pre-empt the onset of the teenage years by having “the talk” as early and as authentically as possible.
“The earlier children become aware of the changes they will go through, and the more detailed information they receive, the less they will be overwhelmed by the changes which will happen,” Gull urges.
However, it’s crucial not to assume what the problem is with your teen or tween.
You don’t want to assume it is just normal teenage behaviour when it could be something more serious.
“Never assume or suppose what it might be before asking the children,” Gull warns.
“Teenagers are the real experts about their own minor issues and bigger problems in life. So, always ask them first before you decide what it might be. As you are asking them, you are taking them seriously and showing them how important they are,” Gull concludes.
In a nutshell
Alfred Gull shares his top tips for dealing with teen angst
Never forget to show genuine interest in what your children are doing, what they are interested in, who they like or sometimes even worship, and especially what or who they do not like.
Never pretend you are interested or ask things just for the sake of asking.
In case you can pop in some details about sports, music, movies or series, and other things teenagers nowadays are interested in they, will praise you for that among their friends, and feel proud of how cool their mom and dad is.
In any situation, teenagers are worrying, sad, or just frustrated because there are so many changes in their life. They need a big bear-hug or a parent just being near them, and being open-minded. These things are more important than
a thousand words.