Could My Teen Be Suicidal?

It started as a normal one-to-one pillow talk with my 14-year-old son last night.

I have always been honest and vulnerable with my children, telling them about my feelings and thoughts about parenting, about our relationship, about why I make the choices I do about discipline, homeschooling and so on. And last night was no different. I was sharing with my son about teen angst and the tight rope we parents balance on when dealing with our teens. On the one hand, we want to give our teens freedom. On the other hand, our teens need guidance. It’s really a hard balance to strike.

My main purpose last night was to re-connect with my son, having given him a serious and extended lecture the night before. He had been so upset after the lecture that he locked himself in the bathroom journaling his feelings for a long while. He emerged way after I had fallen asleep.

Then yesterday, he had spent the whole day out.  He basically went out right after breakfast.  I only saw him at dinner time.  Throughout the day, I had been anxious to understand the frustrations he had been feeling as well as his struggle to focus on school work. I also wanted to soothe the hurt I knew he must have felt from the lecture.

And so I initiated a pillow talk last night, and I was grateful he was open to talking to me in the dark. He had rested his head on my left arm and taken my right arm to wrap around his chest. My 14-year-old wanted a cuddle. My heart melted. I could feel he needed me, desperately.

And so we talked. Or rather, I started talking.

I talked about the angst that teens go through, about why teens have difficulty focusing on school work, about the stress teens face. I also talked about the reason I wanted to conduct the teens workshop that I will be running in Jun, that I felt it was important for teens to understand what they are going through and why they are going through the tough patches.

I confessed that sometimes I might think I was right, but actually I could be wrong because I was only seeing things from my perspective. “That’s why it is important for you to tell me what you are thinking about and what you are feeling so I can have a better picture and navigate from there. Otherwise I’ll always be navigating from my perspective and you may think I don’t understand you at all. You need to help me understand you because I can’t read your mind,” I implored.

“Like the blind men and the elephant,” he offered.

“Yes!” I agreed. He couldn’t have found a better analogy. If we don’t communicate our perspectives, we will always see a different part of the elephant. He could think the elephant is long and soft like a swim noddle, while I insist the elephant is wide and rough like a tree trunk. The more I insist upon my views, the more he thinks I don’t know what I am talking about. That is why I take great pains to describe my elephant to my children, hoping they can see my perspective. But if my children, especially my son, don’t tell me what they see, I can never get a full picture of how the elephant looks like.

“There is nothing you can tell me that will stop me from loving you. And there is nothing you can tell me that will make me go ballistic. No matter what it is, you are still my child and I will love you forever,” I assured him.

He kept quiet for a long while.  I could sense he was on the verge of saying something.

“So is there something you’d like to tell me?” I asked.

“I can’t say it,” he replied after a long silence.

“It’s ok. There’s nothing you can say that will make me upset with you,” I repeated.

“I’m not worried that you will be upset with me. I’m concerned you will beat yourself up if I tell you,” he answered cautiously.

Now if there’s a better way of keeping me in suspense, I don’t know what it is. He has definitely piqued my interest. What could he want to say that could make me want to beat myself up?

After beating about the bush for a while and receiving numerous reassurances from me that I will not be upset with him or myself, he finally revealed his “secret”.

“You know, last night, I was worried about my mental health,” he started hesitantly. “I was thinking my life expectancy will be cut short.”

Internally, I gasped.

“What do you mean? You contemplated suicide?” I asked quietly.

“Well, last night after your lecture, I was really depressed. I was already feeling depressed before your lecture and your lecture only made me feel worse. And dad was also quite harsh with me. So I really felt I didn’t want to continue on.”

“So what did you do?” I nudged, quietly alarmed the thought of suicide crossed his mind.

“I knew it was not normal. But I just couldn’t talk about it. So I journaled. Once I could get my emotions out, I felt better. I also thought about how my friends from scouts and co op would feel, about how you and dad would feel if I really did what I was thinking about,” he confessed.

“Thank goodness for your friends then. And thank goodness you cared enough for us and your friends to stick around,” I said half jokingly. I hoped some humour would ease the lump I felt in my throat and my heart.

I thanked him for telling me how he felt. Luckily, I have learned enough about teens to talk to him about this dangerous thought he had. I am thankful he had the presence of mind to see it was not a normal feeling. I am even more grateful he has the love of his friends and his family to keep him going.

I explained to him about how his emotions are amplified during the teen years and how his problems would seem insurmountable especially when he feels estranged from me and his dad. More importantly, I apologized for making him feel worse than he already did.

Was I alarmed he contemplated ending his life? To be honest, yes. Though I told him I was not surprised, knowing what I do about teens’ brains and hormones. But yes, I was alarmed that I could have lost my son. I, a mom who prides herself on understanding teens, who thinks she has appropriately addressed her son on all occasions and has a strong connection with her son, was, at a moment in time, close to losing her son. That was a huge scare for me.

This incident has made me more determined to help more teens and parents. If my son, my boy whom I have treaded so carefully with, whom I have taken great pains and efforts to stay connected with, could contemplate suicide, even for a split second, what more of teens, or children, whose parents are not as cognizant of such issues and emotions?  If I had not been sensitive enough to initiate a pillow talk to stay connected with him, but had continued with my lecture the next few days, or worse, next few weeks, where would that lead my son to?

It only takes a split second of decision to jump out a window. Any regret on the way down will be too late.  I shudder at that thought.

My mission has become more urgent. I need to help all parents understand their children and be connected with their children. I need to help parents retain the link which will cause their children to stop and consider, “I’d better not do that because mom and dad will be devastated. I love them too much to do that to them.”

Understanding what my son is going through has definitely helped me in my subsequent communications with him. Having him understand that I am on his side, that I am willing to see his perspective will also help him to hang on.

Now, I want to help other parents and children achieve that.

Do you think thoughts of suicide could have crossed your child’s mind? What would you do differently if you think it did?

– Vivian –

PS: In case you are wondering, I do have my son’s permission to write about this because he knows how important this is for all parents and teens. He read this before I published it on the blog. He wants it to be known, however, that he is NOT suicidal. It’s just the thought flashed across his mind and it scared him enough to journal about it. And he is relieved he got to talk honestly and calmly about it with me and understood my support and love for him. At the end of the day, that’s all our children want from us: our understanding, support and unconditional love for them.  Once they know they have that, they can surmount all difficulties.


When My Child Lied…

I’ve always thought of myself as an open and approachable mom. After all, I’m a mom who does her best to understand why her children would “misbehave” and address the reason for that “misbehavior” rather than attacking the behavior itself. After all, I’m a mom who listens to her children’s wishes, though whether those wishes are granted or not is a different matter. After all, I’m a mom who gives reasons for all her answers, esp if they are “No”s. After all…

Yet, I find my daughter lying to me over a trivial matter. Why would she do that?

Discovery of Deceit

A couple of nights ago, I discovered a bottle of “Sprite” and a packet of “junkie” snack in her backpack by accident. If she hadn’t behaved so suspiciously when I reached into her bag for a water bottle, I wouldn’t have even seen the “undesirables”.

It happened during her dance class. She had walked hurriedly toward me when she saw me unzip her backpack. After I put the water bottle back into her backpack, she quickly zipped it up and placed it further away from me before returning to her class. That got me suspicious. So I reached for her bag again. She saw me and quickly walked back to me.

This time, I saw the drink and junk snack.

“Did you buy these?” I asked.

“No,” she replied instantaneously.

I raised my eyebrows.

“Sorry, mom. I did buy them,” she muttered.

“hmm,” I replied. Then I shooed her back to join her dance mates.

Had I Contributed To My Child’s Need to Lie?

My mind was spinning. Normally, if she lied, I would give her the usual integrity-is-everything and lying-corrodes-trust kinds of talk.  But that evening, I had just received news of an 11-year-old boy who had apparently jumped off his 17-storey home because of an argument with his dad.

What could have pushed the boy over the edge?  I could only imagine the guilt the dad felt seeing his boy dead at the bottom of the building. I was thinking about what we could do when disciplining our children so that our parent-child relationships are not so shredded that our children lose all hope. But mainly, I was thinking of how sometimes we could be the ones who contribute to problems that our children get into.

So having my daughter lie to me made me pensive. I reflected upon myself. Why would she feel the need to lie?  What was it about me that would lead her to lie? Do I tend to over-react when she does something wrong? What can I do to ensure she wouldn’t feel she needs to lie to me again?

Throughout the dance lesson, I could tell she was very anxious. She kept stealing glances at me. Once, I stepped out of the class to make a call to my husband to see if he was coming to pick us up. When I went back in, she came over and asked, “What is it? Who were you talking to?” I told her I was talking to daddy and shooed her back to her class.

While changing out of her dance shoes after her class ended, she kept asking me, “What is it?” every time I looked at her. I told her, “Nothing, dear. I just love looking at you.” Inside, I was hurting. I was still trying to figure out how to address this. It was obvious she was, dare I say it, fearful. What have I done that made her so afraid of me?

Finally, when we left the dance studio, she asked meekly, “Are you angry with me?”

I stopped and faced her. “Do I look angry?” I asked.

She shook her head. I told her I wasn’t angry, but disappointed she didn’t feel safe enough to tell me the truth. And I asked her why she felt she had to lie to me.

Her Expectation Of How I Would React

“I was afraid you will be upset,” she replied.

“Upset about what?” I asked

“Upset that I bought these things.” She said

“Why would I be upset?”

“Because they are bad for me,” she answered.

I told her I was not upset she had bought those stuff. I understood why she did it. It’s true it was not what I would have wanted her to do. She could have made better choices with her purchases, but was the act of buying those snacks wrong? I didn’t think so. What upset and disappointed me was that she chose to lie. If she had owned up, this whole incident would have been a non-issue. I might have talked about making better food choices, but that would have been it.

I asked her if she understood what I meant and she nodded her head.

“Did you tell daddy?” she asked.

“No, I didn’t,” I said and she heaved a sigh of relief.

“But I will,” I continued and she tensed up.

“Not because I want him to know you lied, but because I think it is important he understands you need more security to feel you can be honest. Both daddy and I need to work together to help you feel that way. Do you understand?” She nodded.

“I’m sorry, mom,” she said.

“I’m sorry too,” I replied.

Lesson for Me

Indeed, I am sorry. I’m sorry I hadn’t let her feel safe enough to be truthful. That is something I need to work harder towards so she knows she is safe telling me anything.

If she feels the need to hide from me the truth about where she got her junkie snacks from, I can’t imagine what bigger stuff she would hide from me in the future simply because she is afraid I would get upset or angry.

I need to let her feel safe and assured of my love regardless of what she does. I need to let her feel that I will be by her side, that I will be there to help her through all problems big and small, when she messes up. That my daughter “fears” me, or rather fears upsetting me was a big wake up call for me.

Lesson for My Child

For my daughter, she realized the anxiety she faced doing something she knew I disapproved of, and worse when she lied about it. She was worried about how I would feel. She was anxious that her dad would find out. An innocent act of me getting a water bottle from her backpack had sent her running to me. A glance from me had put her on the edge. Seeing me on the phone with her dad had made her tense.

She learnt about the power of her conscience. It didn’t matter if anyone knew what she did or not. Her conscience knew, and it had kept her on the edge, constantly worried that others would find out.

She learnt a Chinese saying, “If you don’t want people to know about it, then don’t do it.”

She also learnt a far more important lesson.  That her lying had cost her her credibility.

I had asked her how many times she had bought stuff like that and she said this was the only time. When I raised my eyebrows in doubt, she looked me in the eye and said again, “I am not lying.  This IS the first time.”

To which I replied softly, “And why would I believe that?”

She lowered her eyes and said, “No, there is no reason why you should believe that. Not after I lied to you just now.”

I asked her if she saw how destructive lying could be.

“Yes, mom. Integrity is everything. Now you will doubt everything I say.”

“So what can we do about that?”

“Never lie again,” she said.

I assured her I can take anything she tells me, I might be upset, but I will still be on her side as long as she is truthful. I stressed the importance of her being honest, so I can continue to trust her, so she doesn’t have to dig herself into deeper trouble with more lies. I promised her I would not go ballistic with any truth she tells me.

Sure, she was wrong to lie. But I believe it takes two for lying to occur. And I will do my best to create an environment that encourages truthfulness, an environment of trust in both directions.

What about you?  What do you do when you find your child lying to you?

– Vivian –

A Valuable Lesson On The Importance Of Attitudes And Beliefs


It’s all in our attitudes and beliefs: Do we fight to the end even if we had messed up big time in the beginning or do we give up and say, “There’s no way I can catch up”?

The opportunity to teach this lesson arose over the weekend. It was a priceless lesson on resilience.

Oops! Big Mistake At The Onset

We were playing a game at an event and R made a careless mistake right at the onset of the game. He punched in the wrong answer in his excitement.

I saw it before he realized it. But I bit my tongue and refrained from saying anything disparaging, like “that was such a careless mistake!” or “why didn’t you see more clearly?” Instead I just pat him on his back.

Don’t Give Up!

When he realized his mistake, he did not beat himself up. Nor did he whine about it. Instead he dug his heels in and continued to battle.

I could see he wanted his name to appear on the screen where the top 5 scorers were listed. It seemed like an impossible task now that he had answered one of the 8 questions wrongly.

R knew the math: 62 players and he had just given himself a 12.5% handicap. Statistically, he knew the odds were stacked against him. Yet he didn’t give up. He continued paying close attention to every single question to prevent making the same careless mistake. His fingers were poised over the controls, ready to press the correct the answer at the fastest possible moment (the sooner you key in the answer, the higher the score).

As the rounds proceeded, he continued striving even though his name did not appear on screen. If anything, he seemed more intent in being faster and more attentive.

Finally, after round 8, the last round, the results appeared. There it was, his name in the 5th position. He had made it to top 5!

“I did it!” he exclaimed in triumph.

Teachable Moment

Seizing this teachable moment, I did a debrief with my children after the game.

It was a positive demonstration of resilience. I wanted R to lock in how he felt when he was battling to come back from behind and I wanted C to remember how the “never-say-die” spirit looked like.

The lesson for my children that day:

It is all in our attitudes and beliefs. If we don’t give up, if we believe in ourselves, we will continue striving harder and faster to catch up. Even if the results are not evident in the beginning, we will still succeed. It may take us longer, but we will get there. AS LONG AS WE DON’T GIVE UP.

If R had decided there was no way he could get onto the top 5 list because of his initial careless mistake, he wouldn’t have worked as hard for the remaining 7 questions. Then he would DEFINITELY NOT have made it to top 5, confirming his belief that he had been severely handicapped by his initial error. But because he fought on, believing he could do it, he made it. And that reinforced his belief in himself.

The Right Cycle

Beliefs Behaviour Outcome Cycle

Our beliefs and attitudes shape our behavior which in turn shapes our outcomes, and that in turn, confirm our beliefs and attitudes. It is an endless self fulfilling cycle. We need to ensure we are circling in the RIGHT cycle, the cycle that empowers us to strive for success.

– Vivian –

5 Ways Young Teens Are Like Toddlers (Part 2)

In my previous post, I talked about why our teens behave like toddlers, throwing temper tantrums and exerting their need for independence even though they cannot manage or handle that independence. I also shared some strategies on how parents can manage these issues. If you missed that post, you can find it here. In this post, we will look at more ways our young teens are like toddlers and what we can do to help them.

3) The Need For Transition Time

How many of you feel frustrated that when you give a command to your teen to do his homework, take a shower or go to bed NOW, you are met with either indifference or a temper tantrum? Well, you are not alone.

Like toddlers, our young teens are very absorbed in whatever it is they are currently doing. Like toddlers, our young teens cannot transition from one activity to another at the drop the hat, even though a year or two ago, or even a month ago, they could do it. Like toddlers, our young teens need transition time.

What is going on?

Like toddlers, our young teens want to be in control. Making them move from one activity to another without warning makes them feel out of control. And of course, that triggers resistance in them.  And when they feel resistance, they will put up a fight.

What could parents do?

Even as adults, we DO NOT LIKE to be interrupted and told to drop whatever it is we are doing to go on to the next thing. Yet we CAN do it. We may not like it, but we can definitely do it. That is because logically, we understand why we need to move on. Emotionally, we are able to control our displeasure. So we do what needs to be done even if we are not happy about it. But it is very different in the case of our teens. Logically, they may understand why they need to move on. Emotionally, however, they are unable to control their displeasure. And I would like to stress the lack of control is not their fault. So they WILL flare up.

The way to manage transitions then is to give sufficient warning so it does not come as a shock to our teens. I typically give three warnings to my teen. The first warning (usually 20-30 mins prior) lets him know that he has limited time left on what he is doing and he needs to start wrapping up. The second warning (usually 5-10 mins prior) lets him know the transition is inevitable and eminent and he HAS TO wrap things up SOON. By the time he hears the third warning (which is “Ok, time’s up, let’s move on”), he knows he has been given the opportunity to wrap things up. Whether he did it or not was his choice. What he gets is he was given a choice to wrap up whatever it was he was doing. And if he did not, he has less reasons to get mad. He was in control of how he wanted to leave the activity he was doing. I have found using the 3-warning system to be very effective in getting his cooperation on moving on to the next thing with minimal temper flare ups.

4) The Need For Routine

As our children grow up, we become more lax and allow them leeway in doing what they need to do. We think they are old enough to get their school work done. We believe they are sensible enough to know they need to brush their teeth twice a day and get a daily shower, with shampoo and soap. We are certain they know what time to go to bed and will go to bed when the time comes. Then we realize when they hit the early teen years, that most, if not all, of these things do not get done automatically, even though these were things that they have been doing on their own since they were 5 or 6 years old.

What is going on?

When our children hit the early teen years, they become highly distractable. They lose track of time and have an over-inflated confidence of what they can achieve. Combine all these traits and we get young teens who procrastinate on school work until it is too late to get it all done. We also get young teens who forget to brush their teeth or take a shower, not because they are lazy or dirty, but because they honestly thought they had already done it. No kidding!

What could parents do?

All of us thrive better with routine, even as adults. It is less stressful when we know what is coming up next. We know it helps our toddlers. For our young teens, it is even more critical. With the distractions they encounter all the time, routines help them anchor passage in time. As much as they may resist the structure, we need to put routines back in their lives, and remind them constantly to stick to those routines. The important thing is for us to design the routine with our teens’ inputs. And then it is up to US to help them stick to their chosen routine.

5) The Struggle With Sleep

Sleep. A hot topic amongst parents with little ones and parents of teens. Remember the time when our little ones gave up naps, were cranky all the time and yet refused to go to bed? Then our children hit early teens, and it feels like déjà vu, except this time, the bedtime battles seem bigger and more difficult to manage. Our teens refuse to go to bed at bedtime. Then they cannot wake up in the morning because they have gone to bed too late the night before. We may force, cajole, coax, bribe, threaten them to get them to bed but it is useless.

What is going on?

Blame it on the hormones and the shift in the circadian rhythm of our young teens. Generally, the teens stay awake 2 hours longer than when they were younger. That, together with the workload they have and the stress they face, their ability to fall asleep at the desired time decreases.

What could parents do?

Lovingly establish a routine, with your teen, and stick to it. It helps our teens to know what to expect. Sometimes they are so distracted and disoriented they do not know what to do, so they continue doing what they have been doing and “forget” to sleep. It definitely helps to establish the routine with our teens inputs. Have THEM work backwards what time they need to sleep based on what time THEY think they need to wake up and how many hours THEY think they need to sleep.

What if they say they need 5 hours of sleep? Agree to it. We know they need more, but for now, let us agree to it. Then ensure they go to bed at the time THEY decided based on their 5-hour sleep requirement. After a week, review it with them. Did 5 hours of sleep work for them? Did they feel tired and cranky mid-day even if they had fallen asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows and gotten their 5 hours of sleep. If they still felt tired, how many hours do THEY think they should sleep? Revise the time for bed. At the end of each week, review again and see if any changes need to be made.

This is going to take a few weeks. But trust me, when the teens are the ones who make the decisions, they will stick to their decisions better. If we cram our decisions down their throats, they will find all ways and means to circumvent those decisions and they will feel resentful towards us.

The other advantage to this technique is this. By helping our teens come to the right decisions themselves, we are teaching them how to make sound decisions. We are teaching them how to review and modify their decisions so they can achieve their desired outcome. We can use this method to help them make decisions in all aspects of their lives, not just setting the time for bed. In fact, I would caution parents NOT to make decisions for their teens. Do not explain why you made the decision or how you came to the decision. Instead, ask them questions, let them make the decisions, review those decisions after some time to see if they work, and if those did not, let the teens decide what they need to do.

Unlike with toddlers where parents can make most of the decisions, when it comes to teens, we need to step back and help our teens DERIVE the decisions to make.  Other than that, our young teens are like toddlers in many ways. It is a confusing and frustrating time for them.  And they need extra love and attention from us to get through this stage.  Hang in there.  This too shall pass.

–  Vivian –


5 Ways Young Teens Are Like Toddlers (Part 1)

We have all heard of the “Terrible Twos”, though personally, I do not feel the twos are terrible. There is also a phrase for teens. Can you guess what it is? Yes, “terrible teens”. But just as I do not believe in the terrible twos, I do not believe in the terrible teens too.

It is my belief that when we understand why our toddlers and teens behave the way they do, we can provide the understanding and support that they need. And once those core needs are met, the developmental phase will be over sooner than if we were to fight their development. And when we give the necessary support to our teens, they, and we, will emerge stronger and more complete.

So, do you feel like your young teen is behaving like a toddler? If you do, congratulations! Your teen is normal and you are not alone. Research has shown that our young teens, despite their physical size, do regress into toddlerhood. So how are they like toddlers?

1) Emotional Outbursts and Temper Tantrums

Most of us know our children have hit adolescence when we experience their explosive tempers. Like toddlers, they flare up when they do not get their way. Like toddlers, they throw a fit when they cannot get something done. Like toddlers, they are prickly and get bothered easily by other people. Little things seem to trigger them and they storm around like little tornadoes. Many times, our young teens feel angry and do not know why. Rest assured this is normal behavior.

What is going on?

Yes, hormones play a big part in the mood swings our young teens experience. But there is actually more going on.

Unlike our toddlers, our young teens are under a lot of stress from school, friends, parents and more. Typically, they are deemed to be young adults, capable of being responsible for their own schedule. However, research studies on the brain have shown that the prefrontal cortex of our young teens are not developed enough to do what we expect of them. They are easily distracted and unable to make or keep to schedule. What results then is a mismatch of our expectations against their capability. Unable to deliver results repeatedly, they feel stressed and demoralised. When we couple that with the hormones surging in their bodies, they cannot control the emotions that flare up as a result.

What could parents do?

It helps for us to understand the physiological and psychological development that our teens are going through. When we understand, we will naturally be more empathetic to our children. We will also then be able to provide appropriate support our children need. This is a time when we need to shower more love on our teens. Actually our children need us to shower love on them ALL THE TIME. But our young teens need even more of our love because they feel bewildered by their own emotional outbursts.

What to do with all those temper tantrums? It is our natural inclination to want to shut down these negative exhibitions of emotions, to insist our children “stop this nonsense” or “get a grip”. However, our teens need to feel safe to express themselves (as long as they do not go overboard with their tantrums). Luckily, most parents understand this has to do with the hormonal development in their young teens and do cut their children more slack.

However, we need to do even more. The answer to helping our teens get over their “tantrum” stage is actually rather counter-intuitive. The more they tantrum, the more love we need to shower upon them. It helps to tell our teens, “I understand you are upset. I’ll leave you alone while you work this through. But I am always available when you need to talk.” First, it signals our sensitivity towards how she is feeling. It also tells her we accept her for who she is. Finally, it lets her know she is not alone, that we are available for her. Then when the storm blows over, we can talk things over and resolve issues together. But at the point of our teen throwing a tantrum, our shutting them down does nothing to help. They may not exhibit their tantrums in the future, but their relationship with us would be severely strained.

Of course, there will be times when their temper tantrums go overboard and they start hitting people or smashing objects. What do we do then? That is the time when we have to draw the line and let them know that is not an acceptable behaviour. We need to be firm when setting this boundary. However, we need to understand that our teens need to physically expel the energy that wells up within them and we can help them redirect their energy into sports. I usually tell my son to go for a run or do some pushups to work off the energy.

2) The Need For Independence

Remember the time when our toddlers want to do everything themselves from putting on their own clothes to tying their own shoes laces? Remember how they disintegrate into tears and tantrums when they cannot do it and yet still refuse any help? Well, our teens go through that too. They want to be independent. They think they know what they need to do. They think they can do it. They want us to stop directing them or controlling them. But what happens? Things do not get done. They get distracted. They forget. They fail to manage their time well enough to do what needs to be done. Then the whole world comes down upon them. Teachers punish them for not getting their school work done. Parents punish them for getting into trouble with school, for not being disciplined enough. And our children fly into a rage. Sounds familiar?

What is going on?

It is a natural and healthy phenomenon for our teens to exert their independence. After all, we cannot baby them all their lives, can we? However, many parents make the mistake of thinking their teens have grown up and hand independence totally to their teens only to realize that their teens keep messing up again and again.

In some ways our teens may appear mature. They can reason. They can think. They know right from wrong. Whether they exhibit that maturity all the time or not is another question. Despite their seemingly mature behavior, the brain power of our young teens is not mature enough to hold on to the prize at the end of their toil. They may know they have a project due at the end of the week, but they are easily distracted. And the reason that happens is because their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for making decisions, is still under-developed. Even in their distraction, they are not worried about the looming deadline because they strongly believe they have things under control, that they can deliver results. Then before they realize it, the deadline hits them in their faces and it dawns upon them that they cannot do it. Then panic, shame, guilt, and fear grip them. Roll these emotions up with their hormones and their lack of self control, we get an emotional eruption.

What could parents do?

Again, understanding what our teens are going through and understanding why they are doing what they are doing help a great deal. It does not make the teens right in behaving or reacting the way they do. It just helps us manage our own expectations and realize our teens actually need more help than they, or even we, think.

Many parents believe that once our children hit the teen years, they should be mature enough to manage themselves and their school work. That cannot be further away from the truth. Our 11 and 12 year-olds are more capable of self discipline and time management than when they reach 13 and 14 years old. And yes, I am talking about the same child. That is why parents are typically taken aback by the “slacking” they observe in their young teens. However, research has shown that this regression is normal. Unfortunately, it is highly counter-intuitive to parents that when their children hit the teen years, they need more supervision and guidance than they did a year or two ago. Many parents resist and resent having to give that extra supervision. “You are old enough to….” is a common adage we hear from parents when they talk to their teens. That is why  understanding how the teens’ brains develop and understanding how they think will help us a great deal in helping and supporting our teens.

So how do we support our teens in their quest for independence? On the one hand, we need to acknowledge that we must grant them independence. The more we suppress their independence, the more they will fight for and struggle for it. On the other hand, we know they cannot manage total independence. It is a fine balance between giving our teens the independence they need and ensuring we hold the reins tight enough for them to get things done.

So what should we do?

Threats and punishments for non-compliance have little or no effect in changing our teens’ behavior, which is why parents tend to get really exasperated. What our teens need from us at this stage is our guidance even if they hate to ask for or to get it from us. One solution is to give them freedom to decide what to do when it is their free time (as long as it is not illegal or morally wrong). However, when it comes to important stuff, like their school work or their safety, we need to micromanage a little more. Our children have reached the age where, unfortunately, we need to provide constant vigilance. We cannot leave them alone and trust they can get things done. Our constant vigilance will include giving them reminders, asking them to show us what has been done on a daily basis, or even sitting down with them while they get their work done.

When we understand why we need to reinvest the time and energy on our teens to keep them on track, we will be less resentful and more empathetic. Our teens will sense our acceptance of them and be grateful to us for being there when they need us. Of course, they will not realize this till they are in their twenties, but we are parenting for the long term, aren’t we?

In my next post, I will cast light on more ways our teens are like toddlers. Stay tuned to understand why our young teens behave the way they do and what we can do to support them.

Till the next time, dig deep into your reserve for patience and empathy. Do share with us whether the two strategies above help you understand and manage your young teen a little better.

– Vivian –

PS: Continue here for 5 Ways Teens Are Like Toddlers (Part 2)