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Articles by Dr. Greg Smalley

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Dr. Greg Smalley

Dr. Smalley also helps lead marriage seminars around the world and helps train pastors, professionals and lay leaders how to effectively work with married couples. read bio

Six Adolescent Needs….Meet Them or Else!

In no order of things is adolescence the simple time of life.     --Jean Erskine Stewart

Parents of a teenage boy watched their son walk out to the father's truck, get in and drive off.  "But I was firm with him," said the husband to his disbelieving spouse.  "I did better than last time.  For a couple minutes, I had him thinking he wasn't going to get the truck keys."

How many times have you felt the same way as this frustrated father?  It can be very difficult when trying to deal with an adolescent.  Adolescent!  The name alone can send chills up the backs of many parents.  It may seem like just yesterday that you and your teenager had a great relationship--one that didn't seem so confusing or frustrating.  I'm not trying to imply that as your child moves into adolescence everything is going to change and become terrible.  Every child is unique and will respond to the teenage years differently.  However, what I can guarantee is that things will change.  During this period of change, what does your teen need?  Plenty. 

Psychologist, Dr. Bruce Naramore states in his excellent book, Parenting Teens, that teenagers have six basic needs which need to be fulfilled during adolescence in order to become healthy, well-adjusted adults. 

1.  Develop their distinct identity and a sense of their uniqueness.

As parents, we can have a tremendous influence on their identity or self-esteem.  By identity, I mean the way a teen feels about himself--positive or negative.  There are some important things we can do as parents to help increase a teen's identity.  First, help identify areas of interest.  Every teenager has a particular area of interest or areas where they excel.  Whether it is in athletics, music, school, art, or ministry, help your teen to identify his area of competence.  Second, provide praise and encouragement.  It is vital that teenagers receive praise and encouragement from parents or other influential adults. 

2.  Progressively separate themselves from their childhood dependency on their parents.  You can do something to help them during this transition.  Get your son or daughter involved with a "mentor."  A mentor can be a powerful force as teens develop convictions because "outside instruction" can make a special impression on their lives. 

3.  Develop meaningful relationships with peers and others outside the family. 

As you may have already discovered, teenagers enjoy spending exceedingly more time away from home than they did at younger ages.  Your adolescent's new found peer group is important in order to satisfy their need for companionship and fun, along with emotional support, understanding and intimacy.  Although they still need these things from their families and other adults, it's vital in their development to receive these things from friends as well.

4.  Develop their capacity to relate well to the opposite sex. 

What can we do specifically to assist teenagers in making decisions about their relationships with the opposite sex?  If you are considering allowing dating then develop a dating contract.  Having a written contract helps take the pressure off guessing when a teen is ready to date.  It's impossible to say that someone is ready to date at a specific age.  Instead, dating readiness should be the result of a teenager displaying certain internal character qualities like honor, integrity, responsibility and resistance to peer pressure..  The dating contract can provide the family with accountability, fairness, clarity, security and togetherness.

5.  Gain the confidence and skills to prepare for a career, economic independency, and other adult responsibilities.  Not only is it important to encourage teenagers in the areas that they have interest, but it is also necessary to teach them real skills.  The straightforward teaching of skills to adolescents often results in increased achievement and, thus, in enhanced self-esteem.  In other words, the more skills a teenager acquires (e.g., how to cook, change the oil, fix something broken, or build something), the better he will feel about himself. 

6.  Fashion their faith and value commitments and basic attitude toward life. 

In a survey to over 5,000 adults, the question was asked,  "How did your parents help you develop your own spiritual convictions?"  Overwhelmingly, the number one response was: Church attendance.  The significance is that church is an important way to help your teenagers to foster ownership of their spiritual convictions. 

As a parent, what can you do to assist your teen as he or she masters these six important needs?  You must make time when your teenagers need it--watching for teachable moments.  Teens might go a whole day without seeking our help.  But as Dr. Ross Campbell explains in his book, How to Really Love Your Teenager, teens have something like a "container" built within them and every once in a while they run out of "emotional gas."  This is when they come up and need to be close to us.  They need touching, listening, understanding, and our time. 

When they come to us, we must be careful what we communicate.  If we say, "Not now, I'm busy," they'll observe what we are doing and compare their importance to it.  After we have filled their "emotional gas tank" they usually are off to be with their friends.  Maybe we haven't explained everything we wanted to say, but they're filled up.  And that's okay.  A teenager needs to know that he's valuable and that his parents are available at times when he needs them. 

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