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Teen expression

By DR MICHAEL LOWRY [email protected]

Dr Michael Lowry is an experienced parent and educator, who regularly visits his Algarve home in Tavira. His work over many years in universities has led to increasing interest in, and understanding of teenagers, their problems and feelings. He has published widely in professional journals, and has delivered presentations at international conferences.

Welcome to my column on parenting teenagers. I will be sharing with you a selection of problems that parents and carers have offered me while I was writing my book Teenagers: their care and maintenance in captivity which is available direct from www.lulu.com or from major online retailers. I welcome examples of readers’ problems, though cannot enter into correspondence on these.

My 15-year-old daughter complains loudly and frequently that I don’t understand her. This is not true, as what she can’t seem to realise is that I was a teenager myself once and of course I understand what it is like for her. I feel that she is being totally unreasonable and, in fact, is starting to make me resent her constant complaining. Am I being unreasonable or is she?

A mother from Alvor

Dr Mike replies:

Well, this is such a common issue that it was only a matter of time before a reader raised it in this column. Being told that we don’t understand our teenagers is first of all an easy way out for the teenager who is complaining, and secondly often a sign that the teenager is feeling frustrated and vulnerable.

For teenagers to be then told that their adult carers do understand them is even more frustrating. Let’s get this into perspective. You say that you understand her because you have been there and experienced life as a teenager.

No doubt at all that you have, however what you have missed is that it isn’t your experience that she is engaging with, but her own. Let’s also consider where the complaint is coming from.

She, along with so many of her contemporaries, is mixed up about personal issues and needs a soft target to explode into – you. It is unlikely that you are going to be able to offer much more than a human sponge to begin with.

Imagine also that she will not really want to know about how things were for you all those light years ago, but that she needs to express something. The best that you can do in such circumstances is to allow that expression, and very importantly not to take it as a personal attack on you or your integrity.

You ask if you are being unreasonable or if she is. The simple answer is that neither of you is being unreasonable, rather that you both have reasons for how you are feeling and reacting.

Try to step back, avoid taking the complaints personally and best of all allow her to express herself, and rather than retaliate, get her to explore her feelings. The important bit in all of this is feelings: hers and yours.

Check out section three in my book Teenagers: their care and maintenance in captivity, which will help your understanding of this situation.

‘Teenagers: their care and maintenance in captivity’ is available direct from: www.lulu.com or from major online retailers.

Dr Michael Lowry can be contacted by emailing [email protected]