This is Part 3 of a special five-part Q&A series with Simone Courso. Click here to read Part 1: On Self-Care.
Although I have my own “tween” at home, I learned much more about adolescents “on the job” so-to-speak, when I taught tweens and teens in secondary schools. It’s easy to see how diverse and unique each child is when it comes to how they communicate and relate to others when you work alongside hundreds of them for years. You’re also often better able to see patterns of similarity more clearly when you talk and engage with youth on a daily basis.
It’s a paradox – they’re all different yet they are all the same. The difference between parenting and teaching however, is that parenting is personal. We don’t dismiss our children at the end of the day to someone else to take over the core essentials and needs of growing up. As parents, we need to remember that we are critically important to our children – even if our kid can’t stop talking about their teacher, their club leader or other adult role model in their lives. Parents matter most and we can leverage that bond for a healthier time during the tumultuous adolescent years.
I asked school Simone Courso to weigh in on the topic of healthy attachments of tweens and teens to their parents. Read on to get a school counselor’s view on bonding with adolescents in our digital age.
Q: In terms of a child’s healthy attachment to their parents, what tips and strategies can you offer to parents of “tweens” and teenagers for maintaining an open connection and secure bond with their child throughout the tumultuous adolescent years?
A: When children reach puberty, we know that they change in many ways. As attached as they may be to you, their need for privacy will increase, and you might be shocked the first time you find their bedroom door closed. As long as this doesn’t happen too much, there is no reason to worry and you might even want to knock at the door before going in. Too much withdrawal however should make you wonder what your teen is up to. It could also be a sign of depression.
This need for withdrawal and privacy doesn’t mean that teenagers don’t love their parents, but they tend to turn to their peers for advice rather than to you. If you create an atmosphere of trust in your family, they will feel like they can come and talk to you when they are facing a dilemma, or if they don’t, they might still remember what you stand for without admitting it. This is why it’s so important to talk to your children about your values and expectations, and to establish guidelines and consequences for breaking rules WITH them. Once everyone involved has agreed, it will be easier for you to make your point, to discipline you teenager or your adolescent without losing your temper. Watch your words, your voice and your body language, try to be genuine and express your feelings very clearly without making an accusation when things go wrong. Stick to the agreement you had with your child and to your feelings.
If you have a child that doesn’t communicate easily (without wanting to generalize, that often is the case with boys), find opportunities to be involved in activities together, take a drive somewhere, play games with them, learn more about that computer game your child is obsessed about. You will find that they will talk to you much more than if you sit them down and force them to answer your questions. Do not ask too many questions. Ask one, and wait for the answer first before you ask another one. Take the time to listen to your youngster when he/she wants to talk and not just when it’s convenient for you. If you have in-house help, you children will form an attachment to your caregiver(s) too. It is therefore essential to look for a person you can trust and talk to, someone you feel will stay with you for a while. Be very clear about what you believe in and what you expect.
In summary, lay the foundations early by discussing your values and expectations, avoid power struggles by understanding your children’s needs (belonging, privacy, power, risk taking), keep the communication channels open and positive, have clear consequences for misbehavior. I understand that it’s not easy and I have not always succeeded at all of these, but the more you try, the smoother this stage of your child’s development will be, and whatever you have established with your teenager will apply to adolescence as well. During that time it is even more important to discuss what you believe in and will tolerate, particularly in terms of risky behavior and sex. Ask them how far they would go for someone, give them suggestions as to how to resist certain temptations without looking weak, spend time preparing them for different scenarios, and what’s ahead.
Simone Courso was born in Alsace, a province in the Eastern part of France. With her husband and her three children she has lived in Switzerland, the Principality of Liechtenstein, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Simone has a Masters Degree in Linguistics and in Counseling Psychology, and is certified with the National Board of Certified Counselors in the U.S. For the last 18 years she has been working in international schools counseling and supporting students and their parents mainly in the areas of cross-cultural adjustment, difficulties with relationships, stress, sadness and self-harming. In her free time, Simone likes to travel and explore new countries and cultures, read, watch movies, or simply spend time with her family.