Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lupus and Social Isolation in Adolescence Part 1

Originally posted on Saturday, December 10, 2005

Part 1: The Tasks of Adolescence
Raising your teenager who is diagnosed with systemic lupus is nothing short of the jujitsu of parenting.

To truly understand what your teenager is experiencing, you need to have a solid comprehension of the tasks of adolescence.

Adolescents are multi-tasking in development.

Their bodies mature rapidly.

When I was a teacher, my term for this awkward phase was "hormones on feet".

We now know through scientific research just how incredibly powerful hormones are, and how hormones directly impact on emotions and behavior. Your child is becoming awash in powerful emotions while her body becomes unpredictable.

This requires a great deal of adjustment.

This also produces a great deal of insecurity for many teens.

Your child is learning how to become an independent adult.

Recall the tantrums of the toddler years (which some folks call the mini-adolescence).

Your little one started the struggle to become an individual while still clinging tightly to you. Parents usually are blessed with a long "honeymoon" phase after the toddler years, in which their child settles down and works away at the task of being a kid.

Now your teenager begins this struggle for independence in full.

Instead of clinging to you... this time your child will latch onto her peers. She is establishing her identity separate from yours. She is evaluating what you have taught her. She is deciding which lessons she will take with her into adulthood and which lessons she will abandon. If she is too tightly wrapped up with you, she is going to have a really tough time separating from you and transitioning into becoming an independent adult.

She needs her peer group to provide her with that sense of belonging that she once sought from you.

Many teens will also latch onto an adult who may provide them guidance through this time. Most kids choose another family member (aunt, uncle, grandparent), teacher, or another supportive adult within her community. Of course, you need to know who your child is with, some adults prey on teens.

This socializing outside of her nuclear family gives her the freedom to individuate.

This transition produces a great deal of anxiety in any teen.

She may become resentful towards you as she challenges your authority. She may question your motives incessantly. She will try to "punch the envelope" of the rules established in your home.

These are her efforts to sprout wings and learn to fly.

Some kids do this well, but the majority stumble many times along the way.

Our teenagers require more attention and devotion from us; perhaps much more so than just a few years earlier in their childhood.

Their rejection can cause some parents to shrug and "give up". Parents may feel that their child doesn't love them or want them any more.

Not true.

Teenagers want the unwavering love of their parents.

When our children behave at their worst that is when they need us the most.

Your child is navigating a torrential ocean.

You are her lifeboat.

The important task of parenting through this phase is to provide your child with unconditional love.

Not passive love, love in action.

The best way to do this is to avoid abrupt reactions to your child's adolescent travails.

Be fair.

Be consistent.

Always try to take a time out to think before you respond to your child's challenges.

While you are timing out, ask yourself what your child is feeling. Really try hard to become your child for a moment... feeling what she must be thinking, feel her anxiety, her fears, her pain.

Then ask yourself what you may need when you feel like that. Think of what your parents did that was good and helpful. Think about things your parents did that were hurtful, mistakes, things that hindered your growth. Think about what you need when you are overwhelmed by life. When you are clear on that, then you are prepared to address your child.

Your teen knows how to "press your buttons" and get a prompt reaction from you. Try your best to avoid that. These challenges are power struggles. Your child is struggling for control over your relationship, but at the same time needing the security of knowing you are in control.

Good parentinginvolves working through power struggles without you or your child losing face.

What works for a younger child does not work for a teenager.

During your adolescence you are learning that life is not all black and white. There are the gray areas of life in which sometimes the answer is "Yes", sometimes the answer is "No", sometimes the answer is "I don't know".

As teenagers learn this they begin to see the human flaws in their parents. As they come to terms with the reality that their parents are not perfect, they react with anger, disappointment, or indifference.

The best way to help your child through this is to teach her how to negotiate with you.

You have to start giving your child "wiggle room" in relation to discipline. Unless an issue is life or death (which can occur in raising a teen with systemic lupus)... work out a compromise.

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