The period of adolescence is usually a time of friction between parents and their children as rebellion rises and authority and rules are being tested. In dealing with this trying period, better communication between both parties can go a long way to douse tension and maintain a healthy relationship between parents and their children.
To understand how communication can be improved between parents and their adolescent children, it is important to critically understand what that period itself is about.
Defining the adolescence period
This is a physical and psychological phase of development from puberty to adulthood. It is a transitional period when these developmental changes affect how an adolescent perceives the world and also how he is being perceived. There is no fixed timeline for the period as it differs across culture, society or country and also in sexes. Generally, this is a period around the age of 11 or 12 till adulthood which is around the age of 18 to 21 depending on the aforementioned conditions.
In Nigeria, the period is around the age of 11 and 13 to the age of 17 to 21. During this period, adolescents tend to go through significant periods of rebellions as they see themselves as not just adults already but independent enough to make their own decisions as they affect their lives.
Noticeable characteristics of adolescence
During this period, there is an egocentric search for oneself and exerting that personality for the purpose of acceptance. During this state, adolescents try to recognise their desires and at the same time, want to fit in with their pears.
For example, an adolescent might realise that he/she is now more interested in modern day hip hop rather than the Fuji his parents listen to, but he/she also wants to make sure that this fits with the desire of his peers. Thus, there is the pressure of acceptance.
2. Decision making and challenging authority
This is a critical observation among adolescents that usually creates tension in the home. Parents observe that the child now choses to do things himself / herself without a consultation or approval, and some of these may conflict with rules they have set.
For example, an adolescent may chose to ignore the laid down rule about being at home before a particular time of the night. In Lagos, male children during the period want to visit football viewing centers to watch football matches rather than stay at home to do so with their fathers.
3. Risk taking
During this period, adolescents are prone to wanting to take risks as it is perceived to be an indication of freedom and expression of will. They are more likely to try out alcohol, intimate relationships, and any other things they might consider as expressions of unbridled fun. There is an increased exposure to danger that is handled with reckless abandonment due to feeling confident and matured enough to “do whatever one feels like”.
For people who live in the rural part of Nigeria certain responsibilities are placed on the shoulders of adolescents which even make them seem more matured than their peer.
For those who who do not proceed to the university level and are made to go and learn one trade or handiwork where they are quickly propelled to adulthood. This is different from the sort of developmental phase Nigerians in the upscale part of the country go through.
For example, an adolescent child in Lekki might find his parents driving him to and from the university instead of being allowed to use public transport himself because they feel their child is not ripe yet.
During this period, adolescents tend to gravitate towards their peers for consultation, information or sharing of their secrets. This is the point where communication between them and their parents can be improved.
How to improve communication between adolescents and parents
1. Encouraging discussion
Parents need to encourage their adolescent children to talk to them and this can only be achieved when there is trust. Trust creates a bond than provides an opening for children to reach out to parents for advice. If a child has a seed of distrust for the parent, it clogs the possibility of developing or encouraging communication
During this period, parents should ask for the opinion of their adolescent children on key issues like: politics, society, gender issues, and encourage the child to also ask questions.
While an adolescent is not fully an adult, the child is already on the last road to becoming one and parents must recognise the fact that the budding boy or girl is developing into a man or woman. Thus, mutual respect is important and treating the child with respect helps it to be reciprocated. Snooping around the child’s room or going through his or her phone indiscriminately can force the child into clamping up and make it difficult to open up to the parents.
For example, if the adolescent child has his room, it is necessary for the parents to recognise the need for privacy by knocking before entering rather than just barging in.
3. “I was once like you”
As a parent, letting the adolescent child understand that you were once like them before you became an adult allows them to see things in perspective and gives them confidence that you understand why they feel in a particular way or perceive something in a specific way.
The adolescent child therefore realises that you have towed that lane before and possibly have answers to all his questions based on your experience thereby fostering better relationship and communication between the duo.
For example, a father can explain the idea of taking responsibility to his adolescent son by using examples of his own past when he was in the village and relate it to the modern period. While the period might have changed due to technology and science, the social responsibility of taking responsibility remains the same.
4. Developing from “don’t” to “why”
Parents must be ready to provide reasons for every rule in the house. At this period, the adolescent child is not just taking the parents list of don’ts but must understand the dangers of consequences of them.
For example, asking an adolescent not to stay out at night is not enough but giving reasons why it is dangerous help to develop healthy discussions and communication between them and their parents.
For example, a father in Ikorodu which is a volatile area and prone to cultism and attack can explain to the child the danger of moving around at night and the possible consequences which ranger from being attacked by gang members, being wrongly arrested by the police or worse possibility of jungle justice from people in the area on suspicion of being a cultist.
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