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Help! What parent education topics should I present to my adolescents’ parents?

Dear Ask a Montessorian, what are some ways I can describe to my adolescents’ parents how to understand and support their children during this time, especially in terms of self image and the importance of social valorization?

Samuel H., Tallahassee, FL

Dear Samuel, being an adolescent today is not the easiest of tasks.  We observe children who appear distant or moody. Many times we find the adolescent has a lack of concentration or focus. Parents are always searching for “best practices” to build more trust or a closer relationship with their adolescent children.  It is likely that as parents, we just simply can’t understand or fathom the reality that is the life of the adolescent. Many times these children are unable to tell us exactly what is wrong, but that there is just something wrong.

It is often that today’s adolescent blames themselves for their challenges.  When it is hard for them to communicate, they may resort to anger or withdrawal from those who want to help them. 

We need to understand those things that make the lives of adolescents challenging and help them to become more capable at dealing with those challenges (or opportunities, as I like to refer to them).  

Adolescents are trying to understand the whole world.  Throughout their lives, they have tried to understand how things work in their sphere.  Most of this navigating is done on their own, unless there are adults who have made themselves readily accessible for guidance.  Even if that guidance is available, they strive to figure out how to handle things on their own. Advice given by parents and others is often ignored.  Regardless of the activity, the adolescent is continually seeking information to find her place in the world.

Adolescents often feel that they aren’t respected.  They are often thought of as “in between,” meaning that they are too old and too young at the same time.  Their opinions are often cast aside and they are often listed as immature. Adolescents are also often faced with disrespect from their peers, from things as simple as their clothes to choice in music among others.  This feeling of disrespect can be internalized and in time the adolescent can become so unsure of herself that any decision is agonizing.

As children grow into adolescence, the affection from parents is often withdrawn.  No more snuggling or sitting on laps. Affection is at the heart of close trustful relationships.  This pulling away from parents creates loneliness and self-doubt that can be unbearable.

Parents need to build relationships that will strengthen their children against the harshness that the environment can be for them.  Parents need to think outside of the box, to freshen their thinking. Keeping in mind that each adolescent is a unique individual, and each parental approach as well will be unique.

Most importantly, parents need to listen.  Adolescents are always sorting through things and if parents make themselves available, the children will talk.  Parents often ask questions out of fear, curiosity or suspicion. The adolescent knows this and will withdraw and not talk.  Being available and non-judgmental is what the adolescent needs in a parent. When they do talk, parents should listen and stay interested and happy in what is said.  Listening well will allow the adolescent to continue to be open and share the more difficult topics.

Listening can often mean simply being accessible.  Parents don’t need to hover, and in fact most adolescents will not want their parents near.  Parents need to stay without being overbearing. Adolescents sometimes feel that their parents are the problem, not a solution.  Parents need to cooperate to an extent, but still be there. This may mean stepping into another room or telling them that you will leave for a few minutes.

No matter what, parents must stay supportive through even the worst that may face their adolescent.  Parents need to make it clear that no matter what the child is going through they support the child and will be there for them.  

Through everything, parents must display respect for their adolescents.  This can be accomplished through the listening that is so important. It will show the interest of the parent and again, allow the adolescent to be more open which in turn will continue to boost self-image.

Parents can easily counter the difficulties that adolescents may face.  By showing respect and interest, listening, and offering affection, the adolescent will gain confidence in her ability to uncover the good that they possess, the good that they are.

Ray McClure, M.S. has been involved in Montessori for 18 years.  He holds certifications from the American Montessori Society and is currently the Director of the Upper School program at Heartwood Montessori in Cary, North Carolina, where he also teaches middle and high school mathematics and sciences.  In addition to his teaching duties, Ray is also a teacher trainer for the Center for Montessori Teacher Education of North Carolina, the Center for Guided Montessori Studies and the Montessori Institute of Poland, located in Warsaw, Poland, where he has written and is implementing the curriculum for Montessori Upper Elementary throughout Poland.  Ray received his Masters of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Mathematical Physics and continues university research in the fields of String Theory and Quantum Gravity. Ray is a member of the American Montessori Society, The International Montessori Council, The Polish Montessori Council, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Institute of Physics (London), and is a voting member of the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics.