Recently, I have had to deal with my son going through the first stages of puberty. As most parents would agree, this phase makes the previous decade in the child's life look like a honeymoon! The surges in hormones, the constant apathy, the inexplicable dysfunction of the ears, the perpetual behaviour issues... As a coping mechanism, it helps me to imagine my son with a sign on his forehead which says "Gone for lunch... for the next 6 years!!!"
Leaving aside the frustration we both feel of not being heard or understood by the other, I really want to help make this time as smooth as possible so we can remain close and he transitions into adult life without getting too hurt.
Easier said than done, of course. How does one implement this smooth transition? What does it look like? Do I have to tackle this alone, considering he is at school half the time?
My instinct has been to talk things through with my son. I don't mean talking at him - i.e. lecturing him - but with him. And that means a lot of listening from my part. When I encourage my child to talk freely, I am creating a safe space for him to express himself without the fear of being judged. By doing so, he verbalises how he really feels. And that makes him emotionally more intelligent. By identifying his feelings, what triggers him, how he reacts to outside stimuli, he can manage his emotions with greater ease. One thing all teenagers crave for is control. So if you present emotional intelligence as the tool that gives them control, you are both winners - meaning you both benefit from it and it's a work in progress for the next few years.
I've had to give up a lot of the previous standards I set for my child (how to properly sit, talk, eat, behave etc.) to make way for a a deeper relationship based on trust... Trust that ultimately my son has learnt all those instructions and now is the time for his personality to develop and his intellectual and emotional growth. So it's absolutely ok if he looks rough around the edges because his core is developing just right.
And what is the role of the school in our teenagers' lives apart form the obvious academic education?
I strongly believe in the old saying "It takes a village to bring up a child". The village is the immediate family, the extended family, the school, the neighbourhood, the entire country. Contributing to the next generation's growth is a prerogative for all of us. Concretely, schools could also introduce emotional education alongside the usual academic subjects as a way of bolstering personal, social and academic competencies.
By taking the time to educate our children emotionally at home, at school and in the community at large, we can strengthen their achievements in the present and secure their success for the future.