Teaching Teenagers Positive Behavior
Characteristics of Teenagers and How to Guide Them
Age 13-16 is the most unpredictable of all. The move from pre-teen to "real teen" is a subtle one with many quandries; the development of individual identity, questioning life in general, peer attachment, and gender roles. Each question answered determines a future course of action that lasts a lifetime. These are listed below, along with the concerns, and possible ways of steering the individual toward a positive resolution:
- Individual identity - the question, "Who am I?" must be answered satisfactorily. Character is born as adults lead youth to seek for answers. Learning about their parents, culture, and past history enables them to build a foundtion of who they are and where they want to go. Spirituality is explored in relationships with those beyond our earthly existence. Religion is no longer traditions to be followed, but questions of life and its purpose, communication with deity, and an understanding of the spirit. There are no pat answers, and each teen needs to go on a journey of discovery into the realms of the unknown to come up with their own individual answers.
- Life and its purpose - in the teen years, it isn't just about having fun any more. They realize that there is more to life than the superficial. They have felt a sense of accomplishment in activities at school, but this is not enough. If meaningful life experiences are not provided through service, music, sports, research, individual goal setting, and achievement, highs will be sought through the use of chemicals and other addictive activities. Now is the time to be involved with a youth group that has structured programming with many opportunities for growth and development. Adult mentors with high ideals that can serve as examples are vital to the teen and help steer them toward a positive future.
- Peer attachment - peers are most important during the teen years. Parents have long since lost their control over the teen and now act more as advisors and mentors. Family ties form the basis of high quality friendships. Boundaries are still imperetive, but must be focused on preparation for leaving home. The obtaining of a driver's license, bank account, money earning opportunities, successful completion of school courses, and college/career preparation are the job of the parents. Social activities come through the peer group. The use of electronic media for social purposes is often funded by the parents, however; boundaries need to be provided. Knowing what the teen is texting, watching, and saying are good indications of their ability to be responsible with the equipment. If the rules are broken, the consequence is loss of equipment use for a time. The same holds true with parties and other social events. When irresponsible behavior is exhibited, priveledges such as use of the car, friends over or visits to other's homes are removed until the teen shows responsible behavior again.
- Gender roles - gender is determined by body function. Males and females are born that way. An understanding of gender roles is determined largely through life experiences. The boy learns how to behave from his mother; as the way the mother treats the father shapes the way the boy sees his own masculinity. The girl learns how to behave from her father; as the way the father treats the mother shapes the way the girls sees her feminity. Sexual identity is affected by the environmental factors around the child during puberty. The teaching of the menstrual cycle to girls and the male changes to boys should be done by a close trusted adult. Leaving these things to chance leaves the teen with much confusion as to how to feel and behave about sexual matters.
Choices and Consequences
Teens love to experiment! They want to feel, think, act, and be. There is never enough time for all they want to do. Allowing them to experience many aspects of life within the boundaries of safety, propriety, morality, and the budget is the responsibility of the family. The best way to put up boundaries is to allow for choices and consequences. Choices that teens will confront on a regular basis include the following:
- Sexuality - teens will be tempted to experiment with sex as their hormones are flowing strong after puberty. The touch of the hand or body is electrifying and exciting. Unless teens have been taught what to do with these feelings, they will easily succumb to them. Family values taught before this time will provide a safety net, however, frequent checking into what the teen is doing, who they are with, and what they are feeling is imperative. Open lines of communication do not happen automatically. They require trust, love, and acceptance. Visit with teens after group activities, dates, and just hanging out, it may be surprising what they have been doing.
- Clothing styles - teens want to be accepted by others. Allowing them to choose their own clothing gives them a chance to express their individuality. Nowadays, anything goes unless boundaries are set within the family. Remind them that bare skin is permission to touch. Bare midriffs, thighs, shoulders, and cleavage invite roaming hands and need to be reserved for beaches and swimming pools. Teen girls provoke sexual feelings in young men when they wear tight fitting clothing and show bare skin. Teen boys provoke sexual feelings in girls when they touch their bodies in the midsection, upper legs, and middle back. Teach that abstinence before marriage and fidelity afterward is the only way to be truly happy.
- Drugs, Cigarettes, and Alcohol - because teens are social creatures, they will be present when others are using these habit forming substances. It only takes one to form a habit. Habits are hard to break and require professional assistance. More people are shot, maimed, or killed after using these mind altering chemicals than we care to know. Practicing refusal skills and providing alternative forms of entertainment that are clean and wholesome brings out the best in teens.
Planning for the Future
It is never too late to start planning for the future with teenagers. Their desire for independence is strong, and takes on many forms. Channeling this energy into productive outlets helps them to choose wisely the course to take after high school. Adults need to listen while youth ask questions and go through the reasoning process. Provide guidance and proper reasoning techniques along the way to help them understand. Reflective listening is a powerful tool, with the adult mirroring back to the teen what they perceive is being said or felt. This helps them to identify issues and solve them. Trust that the teens will come up with the appropriate decision based on their study and research. Give teens the tools they need to live independently. Help them in the following areas:
- Identify talents and strengths - all teens have ability that they may not be able to identify. Let them know when you see a characteristic in them that is positive. Traits such as patience, persistence, courage, and insight will help them be successful in the working world. Offer opportunities to develop skills that they will need, such as cooking, cleaning, child care, car repair, lawn care, and household maintenance. Help them understand money, how it works, and allow them to earn their own.
- Recognize and overcome weaknesses - the teen that has issues with anger needs to find a constructive outlet for its expression, whether physical activity or pounding nails. The teen that smells like body odor needs to be encouraged to bathe regularly and use deodorant. The teen that has a knack for running into other people when driving down the street needs to take a defensive driving course. All teens need to be prepared with independent living skills that will allow them to live away from home after they finish high school. Now is the time to prepare.
- Explore career choices - keep the options open. Allow practicality to stand aside for a moment and let them dream. What are their goals and desires? Where do they want to go? What do they want to do? What do they want to be? If there were no obstacles, what would the next five years look like? There are many ways to go to school, technical, vocational, on the job training, computer schools, community colleges, and four year universities. Funds are available in the form of grants, scholarships, fellowships, and well-meaning individuals.
Teenagers will be as remarkable as we let them be. With family support, they will fly to great heights. At times they may be troubled, but with our help and guidance, the end up being terrific!
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