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The teenage years are a roller coaster – and that’s totally normal

Teenagers distance themselves from their parents and explore their own identity. Psychologist Anna-Maria Hjerpe advises parents to choose their battles and decide which things they are not ready to compromise on.

Analytical and consistent one moment, emotional and dramatic the next. A teenager’s thoughts and feelings fluctuate from one extreme to another, and that’s how it should be.

Adolescence is the last major life crisis in human development before adulthood. Most people go through it at about the same time and in the same way. A teenager may be physically like an adult already, but the brain often does not mature at the same pace.

– The brain does not develop to its full capacity until around the age of 25. The last thing to develop is the frontal lobe, which regulates, among other things, our ability to plan, think coherently and regulate emotions, says psychologist Anna-Maria Hjerpe from Youth Centre Klaara (Nuorisoasema Klaara).

She is critical of the fact that teenagers are often expected to be self-directed and to take responsibility early on, for example, for their studies.

– Many teenagers need someone to wake them up in the morning and take care of them going to school. A parent cannot raise their hands and say that the child is now grown up and can fend for themself. Because that’s not really what they can do!

More listening, less talking

Adolescence is a journey towards independence. A parent may feel as if they are losing their child for a while, only to get them back a little changed later.

A teenager sometimes feels strong, sometimes weak. They are looking for an answer to the question “who am I?”, and can therefore try different identities, roles and lifestyles. Teenagers often want to be exactly the same as everyone else, but still want to stand out from the crowd.

Hjerpe encourages parents to listen more than to talk and not to comment, for example, on the young person’s way of expressing themselves with their clothing choices.

– If a parent tries to limit the right to try different things, it often causes strong resistance – and then the risk is that the connection is broken and communication stops.

Anna-Maria Hjerpe.

A teenager rarely wants advice

Some of the problems of teenagers are related to family dynamics. When a young person is agitated, the parent often downplays the experience by asking the young person to calm down or stating that “it’s not worth worrying about now”. A parent can also get angry at the exaggerated choice of words of a young person.

– A teenager rarely wants advice when they talk and tell about something that happened. When a teenager feels seen and heard, they can solve most things by themself.

If all kinds of feelings are allowed in the family and the child learns to recognise them early, it also helps to navigate the whirlwinds of adolescence. Hjerpe does a lot of work with her clients to ensure that they dare to open the lid of the pressure cooker and face the feelings from where anxiety springs.

Feelings come and go. However, there may be cause for concern if the young person seems depressed for a long time or if their behaviour changes radically and they refuse to tell what is wrong.

Hjerpe advises parents to contact the school, for example, and ask if anything unusual has been noticed there. The parent can also ask the staff to keep an eye on the young person. You can also get support from the family counselling centre and chats for parents.

Parents can do a lot themselves. Instead of sending the child to an expert, you can find out how an adult should act in different situations.

– I wish that the parents of teenagers would talk to each other more and agree on the common rules of the game. Many parents struggle alone with similar problems.

Praise and encouragement

If a teenager behaves badly, Anna-Maria Hjerpe thinks there should be consequences. However, she does not have an unequivocal answer to which rules should be adhered to at all costs. It depends on the basic values ​​of the parents and the family and what is considered most important.

If the teenager is genuinely ashamed of something they have done, a grounding ordered by a parent or restricting phone use makes the situation even more difficult. On the other hand, there may be a need for punishment if the teenager does not seem to understand at all that they have acted wrongly.

– It’s a lot about knowing your own child. I often see that parents justify the abuse of power by saying that the child needs boundaries. Of course, boundaries are needed, but not by any means.

In general, focus should be placed on strengths and praising what is good. Even if the teenager doesn’t usually show up at the dinner table or go out with grandma, the parent shouldn’t stop asking them to come along.

– One day the young person will answer in the affirmative again. That’s when you know you’ve made it through the worst.

The article was published in Kotikäynti magazine, issue 1/2024

Text: Marina Wiik

Photographs: Marina Wiik & Shutterstock