A Life More Ordinary – What to offer your Exasperating Teenager…

When you peer, infuriated, over the mountain of washing at a snoring mass of limbs on your sofa, spare a thought for the poor creature. It’s not all their fault; nor is it yours. The teenage years are unpredictable, often unrecognizable to parents. Adolescence itself is a time of transition; physical, mental and emotional. A period of increased risk-taking and novelty-seeking, it is a testing time for all. At school, home and in the wider world, teens are testing their own capacities in all aspects of life – which often tests the patience of their parents. The adolescent brain – yes there is one in there somewhere – is actually becoming more efficient. A final period of ‘pruning’, selection of the necessary brain cells, takes place in the late teens. It is developing and sharpening the senses and coordination but the slowest part to grow up is the capacity for decision-making. That’s where you come in – after all, you know best.

Adolescents are looking for the walls, the boundaries, the things to bounce off of. They will turn to their peers more than you, since these are now the sources of their sense of identity. But don’t worry, they’ll be back when they need you. Adolescents often feel lost within themselves, as if their over-sized clothes have consumed them and they don’t know who they are anymore. Yet they also feel like they could do anything; powerful and unbound. Teenagers are regularly attracted to popular culture’s superheroes, magicians and vampires – creatures with enlarged capacities, perpetually changing themselves or others. What’s more, their parents may look at them with disbelieving eyes, as if they were someone else’s children. But they are still yours and you can help them remember that.    

An old but very interesting book on counselling young people reminded me recently that adolescence is a period of loss and gain. ‘Personal maturation requires some things to be yielded to make way for new ones.’ (p.19, Noonan. 1984) It’s a time of letting go of things and getting hold of others. Teens are required to mourn the loss of their childhood selves, not to dispose of them but to internalise them; to keep the memory of their childhood alive and within as they mature. But this work is not theirs to do alone. It’s yours too. 

In the transfer of responsibilities which growing-up involves, parents are there both to protect and release their kids. It is a contradiction similar to those faced by the teenager; you provide the walls of safety and the gateway to the wider world. You, through your constant interest and consistent structures, will help usher your child into the world of the adult, through the tunnel of the teenage years. Some conflict will inevitably take place but your role is to stand your ground; this not only helps your teenager to know their own boundaries but also to develop a positive sense of what it is to be an adult. You are, much as you were with your young child, there to filter life experience, to help your teen feed themselves in digestible ways so that they can grow. But it requires you to stand a little further back, to allow their own opinions room. Through this, you will help grant them ‘psychological autonomy’ (p.8, Steinberg. 2001). It’s no accident that as the demands on teenagers grow (from social media in particular), there is increased reporting and recording of eating disorders, self-harm, and other struggles between body and mind. It’s harder with adolescents because they are bigger, stronger, and even needier than the kids.

So don’t try it alone. Share the burden with partners, friends and family. Between you, you will keep this low-voiced, poorly dressed eating-machine on track. Your teenager needs to be loved just as your child was, but perhaps forgiven more freely after more intense negotiations. They still need the boundaries too, yet like the re-drawing of a map after a war, these need to be agreed on by all parties. Hopefully, by providing them with a life more ordinary, they will discover their own extraordinary selves along the way.

Written by:
Robert Leveson
Psychotherapist & Counsellor (TSP, BPC)
SACAC Counselling

Music, G. (2010) Moving Towards Adulthood. In Music, G. ‘Nurturing Natures. Attachment and Children’s Emotional, Sociocultural and Brain Development’, Hove, Psychology Press, pp.185-197
Noonan, E. (1984) ‘Counselling Young People’,  Methuan, London/NY
Steinberg, L (2001) We Know Some Things; Parent-Adolescent Relationships in Retrospect and Prospect. ‘Journal of Research on Adolescence’, 11, (1), 1-19
Wallis, C. (2008) What Makes Teens Tick? ‘Time Magazine’

The Power of Play

The importance of play shouldn’t be underestimated. It has a number of benefits for children and can help to build the parent-child relationship. Play helps children to learn who they are, learn about the world around them and what they are capable of. Playing with others also teaches social skills, such as turn taking, and helps to develop emotional understanding, such as empathy. In particular, play with parents can have a special role of building a strong relationship or attachment which can fill the child up with positive feelings.

At times of stress, when the parent-child relationship is not at its strongest, the child can draw from the positive feelings that they have stored up. Through play, you can build the self-confidence and self-worth of your child, you can help them to solve problems and develop their imaginations as well as vocabulary.

Here are some ideas about how you and your child can get the most from playtime:

  • Follow your child’s lead: it’s the one time they can be in charge and make the rules, so let them be the boss of playtime.
  • Praise and encourage your child’s ideas: hold back on the criticism and encourage your child’s creativity and imagination.
  • Provide support for your child’s emotions: label their different feelings (e.g. excitement, frustration), and help develop their emotional regulation skills (e.g. being calm, waiting their turn).
  • Be sensitive to the level and pace of your child’s play: choose age appropriate toys and play at your child’s pace, not yours.
  • Set aside a regular (daily, if possible) 10 minute play time with your child.

Play can have a positive impact on children’s social, emotional and cognitive development, as well as strengthen your relationship with them, so what are you waiting for, get on the floor and start playing!

Written by:
Dr Kanan Pandya-Smith
Clinical Psychologist 

Facts About Success

Most people want to be successful. Success is the “achieving of the results wanted or hoped for” according to Cambridge English Dictionary, that varies from “the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status” adds The Oxford Dictionaries.

Whilst most people are aware of what it takes to attaining success namely goal setting, consistency, focus, time management, discipline, people skills, etc., there are other facts about success that people don’t know about – or do they?

Success comes with a huge cost. It is not gifted to people, rather it is something that they have to achieve, and to do so they will have to put in time, give up much more sleep and put in much more money again and again. Success comes with a price that is normally bigger that what most people bargained for.

Becoming successful can be a very lonely journey. You are holding onto a vision that no one else may get. You may expect and need your loved ones and friends to get the vision with you, but it was not their job to get your vision as the vision is yours and only yours. To nurture your vision you will be willing to put everything into your project or experience but expect to have lonely moments, hours, weeks and months in the process.

Success is hollow and extremely unfulfilling if measured just by business, money earned, likes or popularity on social media. It is a shallow experience indeed if we only measure success by the balance in the bank account, or by the amount of media exposure or by the number of likes, followers, and people giving us accolades.

Rather success is about building memories and relationships, about the ability to live in the moment, the ability to smell the flowers, listen to the sound of the waves, and enjoy a good laughter.

When people trade in the very things that makes life feel successful they realise- often quite late late- that they wish to go back and make sure those things are along the journey too. Marriages break, children become strangers and friendships are mostly with conditions; this is the legacy that comes with fame, popularity and the significant bank account.

Success it is a holistic and entire experience, so when you sign up for success, make sure you sign up for the complete experience from the costly years, the standing up again after many falls, for no one getting your vision and for bringing in your loved ones, have dinner with them, watch a movie together so you won’t leave them behind.

Written by:
Sanaa Lundgren

Collaborative Family Practitioner (SMC)

SACAC Counselling

Conflict in Relationships: Small Flares to Larger Fires

In today’s jam-packed life, couples often avoid small conflicts until they precipitate into the proverbial tinderbox. Disagreements that are seemingly mundane and innocuous ranging from disagreements about the helper to what school to send one’s kids to can all snowball into much larger issues, if not addressed appropriately. As per research conducted by the Gottman Institute, the average couple waits 6 years before seeking help, often until it’s too late.

While these smaller conflicts may themselves be the catalyst or the precipitator, as the case may be, the underlying mechanisms at play are often more severe. Over time in the relationship, as these disagreements continue to be brushed under the carpet, they breed resentment and can lead to significantly detrimental patterns in communication including high levels of criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and even points of contempt towards one another.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution or quick-fix, the root of it comes down to how the couple manages conflict, especially early in the relationship. Contrary to popular belief, the first step is to not avoid conflict. One should be cognizant to respond to their partner’s needs to discuss matters of importance to them and acknowledge that there may be differing viewpoints. While in the discussion, avoid devolving into criticism. Instead approach the matter with respect, positivity, and an aim to find a solution, and steer clear of assigning blame. In the argument, leave room for repair, and post the disagreement, work towards healing as soon as possible. Finally, if one starts to notice turbulence in the relationship, the Mantra is to seek help early.

Written by:
Sukriti Drabu

Psychologist & Counsellor

SACAC Counselling