Teenagers (13-18 years)
Adolescence into adulthood
When we talk about ‘Rites of Passage’ the teenage years come particularly to mind. Traditionally the concept of a ‘Rite of Passage’ between childhood and adulthood came from tribal culture where young boys (generally) were taken ceremoniously from their maternal home and initiated into the tribe. These ceremonies were performed to facilitate or mark a change in status of the boy into a man. However, it wasn’t until fairly recently in human history that the idea of a period between childhood and adulthood was recognized. This period known as adolescence or the teenage years is now seen as a significant time of change for both young people and their parents.
The phrase ‘Rites of Passage’ was coined by French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (1909); he believed that they consisted of three elements separation, transition and reincorporation. It is these elements that make adolescence so challenging. This also coupled with our growing understanding that this transition period, particularly for the brain, is a lot longer than previously thought.
In fact it is generally agreed now that the brain is not fully grown until we are in our early 20’s, and therefore the teenage years are another milestone that doesn’t end with our child reaching adulthood. We can no longer say “just grow up” because grown up is possibly more than a decade away.
But how does this help us as parents of teenagers?
It was previously thought that all this ‘teenage angst’ was all down to raging hormones but recently scientists have discovered that the brain is going through another stage of rapid maturation, which adds to the confusion for both teenagers and the people who love them. In fact it has been suggested that part of anti-social teenage behavior seen today is due to the lack some kind of ceremonious way of supporting this transition for young people outside the family setting. Young people need to push at boundaries and conflict is normal during this stage of development. It is important that parents understand this and know where to get advice and support as well as just some ‘time out’.
Physically your teenager can do more or less everything an adult can do but because his brain and body is still not fully developed he may struggle with coordinating what he can do physically with his emotional immaturity. With increased independence and expectations from parents, peers, schools and society sometimes it can be forgotten that they are still children. Generally these days the onset of puberty for most young people will have begun by the time they actually reach their teenage years. These physical changes can start as early as 10 years old (or earlier) in some girls and generally a little later for boys. They do not follow any fixed pattern and each individual will experience these changes differently. How they feel about them is often influenced by how open their parents are to these changes, and what is happening within their friendship groups. Early developers may feel embarrassed, and late developers may wonder if and when it will ever happen to them. It is often a time of intense self conscious feelings paired with wanting to ‘fit in’ or conform to their peer group. This also coupled with the hormonal changes that occur at this time can lead to a heady mixture of emotions.
As physical developments do not follow a linear pattern it is challenging to talk about them in any particular order but generally girls will start to grow breasts and start their menstruation cycle. This process can be quite painful as the new breasts develop she might find them sore or sensitive. She may also get some discomfort or pain around the time of her menstruation. Boys will generally get taller, their penis and testicles will enlarge, and their voices break. Both sexes will start to develop pubic hair and will need to start washing more regularly and using deodorant. Boys will start to grow facial hair. Some young people will get acne due to these hormonal changes, which can be very distressing and is generally due to their skin type and genetics.
Bodies going through puberty grow at different rates and at times they may feel ‘gawky’ or disproportional. Parents can practically help by ensuring their growing adolescent has some privacy, and by providing necessary health care products like sanitary towels (tampons), shaving equipment, skin wash and deodorant. Girls may also need to be taken to buy their first bra depending on the support they need.
Our Children turning into Sexual Beings
The hormonal changes in boys and girls at puberty mark the beginning of their physical change into men and woman who can procreate. This is often very difficult for parents to accept especially when it seems to begin so young when our ‘babies’ are still hardly able to look after themselves. However, it is important that parents are conscious of these changes and prepared to talk openly with their children about them. There are plenty of good quality books and resources that can help parents with this task. For further information see Sex and Relationship Education in our Special Needs Section.
All this physical development and the ways in which teenagers produce melatonin means that sleep cycles of teenagers tend to change meaning their sleep patterns may change and the often need to sleep for longer periods of time.
Intellectually this can be an amazing age because as teenagers develop the ability to process abstract concepts like social justice, morality and political ideologies. They are developing and vocalizing their own beliefs and values. They also have the passion, energy and the belief that they can ‘change the world’. Unfortunately for parents, this may be hard to appreciate at the time, because generally we are part of the world they want to change. Somewhere within all this is their need to find their own identity and ‘separate’ from us. Therefore parents need to be prepared to be ‘wrong’ – in fact they need to give up the expectation of being ‘right’ for the next 5 years or so. We of course hope that at least a bit of what we painstakingly taught them will guide them through. But remember this is normal and most important – eventually when our children go through this ‘separation and transition’ stage eventually they will want to ‘reincorporate’ themselves back into our lives. In fact science is beginning to wake up to the importance of adolescence and how we really need to harness the brain-power of young people to really change the world! For more about this see books by Daniel Siegel in our recommended reading section.
Risk Taking and the Teenage Brain
But there is another side to the teenage brain that is particularly difficult for parents and the people who care for them to comprehend, and that is their general inability to gauge their behavior in terms of immediate or long-term consequences. It is a fact that teenagers are far more likely to engage in higher risk behavior to themselves and others, at this age compared to any other age in their lives. There are several reasons for this including recent discoveries within the chemical make-up of their brains (lack of dopamine), their need to find their own identity and their increasing reliance on their peer group for information and feedback into this process.
As parents we need to be aware and sympathetic of these influences. When our child is away from us, as they will be increasingly more during the teenage years, we need to have helped them to prepare to make informed and realistic choices that keep themselves and their friend’s safe. For further discussion about this see sections on Drugs & Alcohol Awareness, Sex & Relationship Education and Dealing with Challenging Behaviour (teenagers) in our Special Needs section.
Language (Communication) Development
Their language and broadening vocabulary is taking on more of their personality. Increasingly the form of communication your teenager will prefer will most probably involve some kind of screen. Whether by pictures, words or text most young people will possess or have access to some kind of electronic communication device. At some point it is most likely that your communication with them will focus on how much time they are spending online.
One of the most frequently asked questions in our parent support group regards how parents improve communication with their teenagers. It can be tough on parents when their formerly chatty, tactile child who couldn’t wait to spend time with them turns into a silent, surly teenager who just wants to spend time locked up in their room on the latest video game or social network. Despite the fact that teenagers may complain about having to join in in family routines like eating at the dinner table or contributing to family meetings, they do still need to feel a part of the family. This is the sense of belonging and identity, which they are increasingly searching for outside the family. The challenge for parents is to stay consistent, keep to routines if possible in order to recognise the importance of providing a safe space for their teenager to ‘act out’ and still feel accepted.
Conflict is Normal
Conflicts due to lack of communication or arguments are common during the teenage years. Young people feeling the need to assert themselves more and have their view heard, can seem to have ‘attitude’ that comes over as disrespectful of their elders especially parents. Angry outbursts much like toddler’s tantrums and ‘back talk’ can be due to this and the imbalance of hormones. As with younger children it is sometimes best to just ignore some of these outbursts and ‘choose your battles’ about things that really matter to you.
One way in which parents can keep communication channels open is by organizing a ‘teen date’. Basically this is when one of the parents plans some one-to-one time with their teenage child. Generally this works best if the parent and child discuss an activity they would like to do together. Ideally it should be the teenager’s choice of activity but agreed between them. It can be participating in or watching a sport, going to the cinema and having a meal or playing a video game together. The purpose of the ‘teen date’ is not to talk about anything in particular but just share an experience. Our time to our teenagers is as precious as it was when they were five years old. It’s just not as easy to ask for, when he is supposed to be ‘grown up’ and ‘independent’.
We need to be aware as parents of the changing nature of our relationship with our teenager. A good tip is when our teenagers ask for guidance they are no longer asking for advice. They don’t want to be told that they should do this, or that they shouldn’t do that. By asking them what they think we are letting go and affirming the emerging young adult.
This can be a confusing and even scary time for teenagers. Coping with the rapid physical and mental changes that come with adolescence, whilst also facing the stress of increasing expectations and pressure to act more ‘grown up’ than they might be ready for, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and isolation. For their parents this can be a challenging time too. One minute your teenager is engaged with you in an adult like meaningful and even insightful conversation, the next minute they are slamming doors and telling you that you are the worst parent in the world. Of course there can be long periods of relative calm, which makes it even harder to prepare for the emotional outbursts or withdrawn sulkiness that may follow.
Emotionally our teenagers need to know that they are still accepted and loved by us. The ‘teen date’ is a good way of planning some regular time to share with your teenager. This shared experience is important for their emotional security as well as involving them in your plans even if they seem reluctant. Teenagers still need cuddles and physical touch but as parents we need to be aware that this may not always be appropriate especially in front of friends or outside the home. It is respectful to ask your teenager if they want a hug.
As part of the ‘separation’ and ‘transition’ process adolescents tend to spend more time with and are significantly more influenced by their peer group and youth culture. As an expression of this they might start to dress, style their hair, or wear make up like their friends or popular celebrities. They will also tend to want to watch online videos, play video games or listen only to the music that are current with their peer group. This can be seen as a normal transition phase where they are ‘trying on’ new ideas, or identities whilst trying to ‘fit in’ with the kids around them. Socially teenagers may try to distance themselves from their parents physically as well as their ideas, their beliefs and definitely their music!
Their relationship with their siblings may become increasingly tense as well although a brother or sister may represent an ally in the family too. As teenager’s bodies mature they will start have sexual feelings towards the opposite or same sex. They may start to have concerns about their body image which may lead to inappropriate dieting or possibly eating disorders. Their growing understanding of their own sexuality can bring up a lot of questions about who they are and what they want. At some point they will no doubt come under some pressure to experiment with sex, alcohol and other drugs. As parents it vital that we are prepared to help or advise our teenagers about where they can get information or advice in Luxembourg or beyond regarding these questions. For further information see our Special Needs or Resources section.
Teenager’s social circles mainly revolve around school and other activities with their peer group. Changes within these groups can lead to extreme feelings of abandonment and generally feeling left out. It is not unusual for kids who don’t fit in socially to experience some kind of bullying from their peers. This maybe face to face or cyber bullying. Any form of suspected bullying must be taken seriously especially as teenagers may be feeling particularly vulnerable. In extreme cases again this can lead to suicidal thoughts. If your child is expressing any thoughts of ‘life not being worth it’ or ‘it’s all my fault – nobody cares about me’ please seek advice as soon as possible. You or your child can get advice and find out where to get further support in Luxembourg from the Online Help service for parents and youths at Kanner Jungend Telefon Helpline.
Teaching Your Teenager Life Skills
Hopefully your teenager is already contributing to the running of your household by the time they reach this stage. Even simple tasks like taking charge of doing the recycling, cooking a meal or using the washing machine are helping him towards the skills he needs to live independently. Sometimes in the increased importance given to academic achievement we forget that the skills we need to look after ourselves are just as, if not more, important to successful adult living. It won’t help him concentrate on his studies at Oxford University if he can only live on burnt toast! That is why we have included in our Resources Section some recommended reading on how to help young people develop their life skills.
Time Out for Parents
The teenage years can be particularly stressful and confusing for parents. It is a time of great change in our family dynamics, which at times can leave us feeling exhausted and wondering how we are ever going to get through. It is important to recognise that as parents we also need some ‘time out’ to get our needs met physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. Looking after ourselves can be seen as an investment in our family. It can also provide a valuable lesson to our teenagers in modeling balance in our lives. For more information on ‘Time Out’ for Parents see our Resources section.
Further Information: Useful Links
If you are concerned about your child or have any questions about parenting in Luxembourg you can contact the Online Parent service in English at the Kanner Jugend Telefon
Family Lives: A UK-based website with lots of articles and information about subjects to do with building a healthy family environment for children and parents alike.
Empowering Parents: An American website full of interesting and useful articles about parenting. Highly recommended reading from preparing for the first day at school to kids leaving home and coming back with their dirty laundry.
Help Guides: An American website that has more than 200 articles, videos, and other resources based on the latest research, and updated regularly by a team of mental health professionals and writers. You can search topics of interest A-Z including information about family relationships, child development and additional educational needs.
The Mindsight Institute: The mission of The Mindsight Institute is to provide a scientifically grounded, integrated view of human development for mental health practitioners, educators and parents to promote the growth of vibrant lives and healthy minds. Dr. Siegel (founder) has written several books about this and collaboratively with Tina Bryson ‘The Whole Brain Child’ & ‘No Drama Discipline’.
Raising Boys: The Steve Biddulph community for Raising Boys brings together a collection of posts, articles and useful links for anyone wanting to connect and find out move about raising loving, connected and sensitive young men.
Raising Girls: The Steve Biddulph community for Raising Girls brings together a collection of posts, articles and useful links for anyone wanting to connect and find out move about raising loving, connected and strong young women.
NSPCC UK: The NSPCC offers parents information and advice about protecting their children from abuse online and in their day-to-day life including their ‘Underwear Rule’ for younger children.
Improving Communication in the Family
How to Talk to Teens – An Empowering Parents online article by Megan Devine that gives 3 ways to improve communication with your teenager.
7 Tips for Better Family Communication – An interesting article by Stephanie Tallman Smith about ways of improving communication in your family as children grow and family dynamics change.
Rules of Good Communication – An article from the Family Lives website about better communication with teenagers in the family.
Education & Study Skills
Ministry of Education: Information on schooling for students with a foreign mother tongue in Luxembourg.
Guide to Homeschooling in Luxembourg: An international website (with country-specific pages) providing information, resources and support for homeschooling families and educators.
BBC Bitesize: follows the UK curriculum but also has lots of activities, ideas and revision around subjects of interest to school children in general.
Digizen (UK): This UK Digizen website provides information for educators, parents, carers, and young people. It is used to strengthen their awareness and understanding of what digital citizenship is and encourages users of technology to be and become responsible DIGItal citiZENS. It shares specific advice and resources on issues such as social networking and cyberbullying and how these relate to and affect their own and other people’s online experiences and behaviours.
Cybersmile: is a UK based charity that raises awareness of cyberbullying or mobbing and helps the people who have been affected by it. They also highlight the pros and cons of digital social networking.
Bullying UK: This is an interactive site for young people and adults, that focuses on all types of bullying.
Common Sense Media: The leading independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families make smart media choices, by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools. Their Parent Concerns and Parent Blog sections are crammed with articles and practical advice to aid families in understanding and navigating the pitfalls and possibilities of raising children in the digital age.
Sex & Relationships
Childline UK: YouTube channel has various videos aimed at young people about issues to do with keeping themselves safe, coping with puberty, sex and relationships.
Scarleteen Sex Education for the Real World: This is a comprehensive sex & relationship education site for teenagers. You may want to visit this site before suggesting it to your child if only to help you understand the complexity of this issue for young people today. It will also serve as a useful place to go to share discussion one to one.
Bish: This is a UK-based Sex Education site for over 14s that talks explicitly about sex, relationships and looking after yourself. It was developed by a qualified youth worker and sexual health trainer, who has worked with young people for over 20 years and has been giving sex and relationships education since 1999.
Drugs & Alcohol
Talk to Frank: is a UK based comprehensive website for young people and adults about Drugs & Alcohol. It gives information and advice about drugs, their use, the risks and the effects. We recommend that parents visit this site to increase knowledge about drug use, drug names (including slang names) and popular drugs used by young people.
Further Information: Recommended Reading
Brainstorm: The Power & Purpose of the Teenage Brain (12-24 years) by Daniel J. Siegel M.D. (2014)
Daniel Siegel writes about recent developments in our understanding of the adolescent brain and how we can embrace and enjoy more this time with our children turning into young adults. We would recommend reading earlier books ‘The Whole Brain Child’ & ‘No Drama Discipline’ before this book. Also see The Mindsight Institute.
How to Talk so Teens will Listen & Listen so Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish (2005)
This book follows on from the popular ‘How to Talk so Kids will Listen’. It is an easy read with lots of examples and opportunities to strengthen skills.
The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively by Gary Chapman (2010)
This book is part of the ‘5 Languages of Love’ Series. The ‘5 Languages of Love’ was a concept first theorized for adults. The basic idea is that we all have different preferred ways of communicating and receiving messages of love. This book provides a tool for finding your teen’s love language and expressing your affections in an effective way. For more information see Passage Blog Articles.
Life Skills for Kids: Equipping your Child for the Real World by Christine M. Field (2000)
Practical book of how to begin teaching your children the skills they will need to move towards independent living.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey (2004)
This book is written by the son of Steven Covey famous for the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ series. Sean has written several books for children and teens. This book can help your teenager focus on working out their values, setting goals and looking to the future.
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley (2014)
‘It’s Perfectly Normal’ has been updated with information on subjects such as safe and savvy Internet use, gender identity, emergency contraception, and more. Providing accurate and up-to-date answers to nearly every imaginable question, from conception and puberty to birth control and STDs. Recommended by the fpa.org.uk.
Let’s Talk About Sex by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley (2014)
Now with expanded information on internet and texting safety, birth control, LGBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) issues and more. Providing accurate and up-to-date information to answer young people’s concerns and questions, from conception and puberty to birth control and AIDS, it offers everything they need – now more than ever – to make responsible decisions and stay healthy. Recommended by the fpa.org.uk.
Developing Study Skills
Mind Maps for Kids: An Introduction to the Shortcut to Success at School by Tony Buzan (2003)
Many schools teach Mind Mapping as a useful tool for learning and revision. They are also great for creative thinking. This book is aimed at children 8 years+.
Mind Mapping for Dummies by Florian Rustler (2012)
A really good all-round resource for adults and teenagers. Learn how to make the most of this technique. The section on using Mind Maps to revise is particularly useful.
Bilingualism & Living in a Multi-lingual Environment
Growing Up with Two Languages: A Practical Guide for the Bilingual Family by Una Cunningham (2011)
Growing Up with Two Languages is aimed at the many parents and professionals who feel uncertain about the best way to go about helping children gain maximum benefit from the multilingual situation like Luxembourg. The trials and rewards of life with two languages and cultures are discussed in detail, and followed by practical advice on how to support the child’s linguistic development.
Be Bilingual – Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families by Annika Bourgogne (2013)
Be Bilingual is full of practical, creative, and fun ideas backed up by the latest research. It shows families how to make multilingualism work in their busy lives. Multilingual families from all around the world have contributed by sharing their best resources and tips on how to make growing up with two or more languages an enjoyable experience.
Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism (Parents’ and Teachers’ Guides) by Colin Baker (2014)
In this accessible guide to bilingualism in the family and the classroom, Colin Baker delivers a realistic picture of the joys and difficulties of raising bilingual children. The Q&A format of this book makes it the natural choice for the busy parent or teacher who needs an easy reference guide to the most frequently asked questions.
Article by: Lynn Frank who is a coordinator for Passage.
Last updated: Monday 15th May, 2017