How to Parent Your Kid Through These Four Stages of Adolescence

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Maybe it’s the long, sleepless nights or the never-ending tantrums, but many new parents believe that the most challenging days of parenthood are in their child’s early years. It can be a long adjustment period for moms and dads to change their behavior towards the newest (and loudest) member of the family. But according to psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Carl Pickhardt, you better buckle up for puberty if you think early childhood is tough.

“I loved having little kids,” he says. “But a youngster wants to be more like their friends. Separation must occur so that by the end of adolescence you will have a young person who can assume functional independence. It takes a lot of growth for that.”

in the his upcoming book Holding on while letting go: educating your child through the four freedoms of adolescence, Pickhardt shares four phases or “freedoms” that he can anticipate as children grow into their own persona, which he outlined by observing how they behave at school, at home and in social situations. We’ll go through these freedoms, how the Internet complicates them, and how to navigate them.

How can parents help children become functional adults?

Parents often feel the need to hold on to their children rather than let go, which can make the journey from needy children to strong, independent adults difficult for moms and dads and their teens.

“A child doesn’t have to earn our love,” he says. “But they have to earn the next level of freedom by showing a level of judgment and behavior.”

Moms and dads should be willing to listen and communicate with their children. By talking to them and assessing where they are on their adult journey, parents feel more confident about letting go of their adolescents and seeing them grow into confident adults. The following is how Pickhardt outlines the four freedoms:

Freedom from childhood rejection

This stage typically occurs in the late elementary school years. Adolescents tend to stop behaving like children and want to feel like adults.

“A kid doesn’t want to be treated like a kid anymore and will be a little more insistent about what they want.” says Pickhardt.

Freedom of association with peers

This stage occurs around middle school when children are looking to start a second family of friends.

“Childhood is the time of physical affection, and youth begins to move away from it,” says Pickhardt. “On the other hand, you relate to them and see what kind of person they are growing into.”

Freedom for older experiments

That freedom happens during the high school years. Teenagers want to try more adult activities.

“You can see that in the way they dress.” says Pickhardt. “They want to dress like their friends.”

Freedom to claim emancipation

Teenagers grow into adults who go to college and decide to become their own ruling authority.

“Adolescence begins with loss” says Pickhardt. “For the parents, it is the loss of the child. For the child it is an act of courage. They find it difficult to let go of what is familiar and comfortable. But that is part of the growth process. But the long-term goal is to grow and become a functioning individual.”

How do social media and smartphones contribute to these freedoms?

That smartphone you bought your child for their birthday could make their journey into adulthood difficult. Remember when you asked your parents a question and they said, “I’ll explain when you’re older.” Pickhardt says that time has passed, which is obviously due in part to how the internet and social media have become available in your child’s waist pack. It allows teenagers to grow up in a completely different world than their parents, which makes raising children through the four freedoms of youth very difficult.

“In some ways, [social media and the internet] accelerated growth,” he says. “It’s certainly a complicated growth because it imparts information and influences to children at a much earlier age than a generation ago. We raise children in two worlds, not one.”

Pickhardt emphasizes that communication is key to helping a child handle this onslaught of good and bad information. He acknowledges that since teens are more inclined to listen to their friends, it can be difficult for parents and children to have a conversation. But when parents are willing to listen whenever their child wants to speak and appreciate what they’re curious about, it can go a long way.

“You can use your child as a teacher to learn about this new world that you may not know too much about,” he says.

Help them realize you’re on the same team

Through all the arguments between parents and their children, Pickhardt emphasizes the importance of communication throughout this process. The bottom line for both parties is that they both have the same goal: to let the adolescent grow into a self-reliant adult. It is the path to achieving that goal that causes conflict.

“Keep saying, ‘Just because I keep raising questions about what you do or don’t want you to do, doesn’t mean I’m not on your side. I’m on your side and I hope you can use me as a good advisor who cares about your well-being,'” he says.

Pickhardt also says to give yourself some grace when mistakes are inevitably made and allow your youngster to ask questions about achieving that goal. Combine your knowledge and act as a team to get there. “Two of you are better than one,” he says.

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