women
Q: My child and I always clash over her sleep patterns—she says I don’t understand. Who is right?
A: You both probably are! It is true that it is typical for teenagers to shift to a sleeping pattern of later bedtimes and later rising over the weekends. However, overall she may be getting less sleep than if she had a consistently earlier bedtime. But staying up late is about watching late-night TV, going to parties and clubs, being awake when all the adults are asleep—it’s exciting and it’s what teenagers do. There is also some evidence that young people’s brains function better later in the day.

If you think that she is sleep-deprived and that this is affecting her mood and her schoolwork, you may need to find a compromise. Try working out how many hours sleep a week you both think she needs, and see if you can agree on a figure somewhere in between hers and yours. Then agree an earlier bedtime on school nights and later rising times over the weekend. Give it a trial for a week or two and see if you notice improvements.

Q: My daughter’s first serious boyfriend has just broken up with her and she is inconsolable. How do I help her get over him?
A: The pain and heartbreak of your daughter’s first rejection by a boyfriend is something you can’t prepare her for. Since she has nothing to compare this experience with, your daughter may feel overwhelmed with emotion, so take this loss seriously. At first she may feel as if her whole world has collapsed and there is little you can say to make her feel better. Pearls of wisdom such as, “There are plenty more fish in the sea,” will not help! Also resist the temptation to sound off about the cruel and heartless teenager who has upset your daughter, since she will still have very strong feelings for him, and this could put you in an awkward position if they get back together. Once her first tears have passed she may want to discuss what happened or she may turn to friends for support. Keep an eye out for any behaviors which suggest your daughter is struggling to deal with the loss of this relationship. It is reasonable to expect her to take to her room and play favorite songs on repeat, but self-punishing, risky or revengeful behavior will not help. Make sure you keep the tissues handy, be free with your hugs, offer a shoulder to cry on (literally), and indulge her with a few extra treats. A shopping trip for new clothes or a joint haircut or beauty treatment will give you an opportunity to chat away from the situation and help her feel good about herself.
Q: My daughter wears her heart on her sleeve. I am worried this may make her vulnerable?
A: The ability to feel an emotion but not express it is quite a sophisticated skill and actually, teenagers are not very good at it. It is a developing skill, and she may learn to tone down the intensity of her expressed emotion, or learned not to blurt out emotionally laden words, but has not yet learned to hide it completely or substitute a more acceptable emotional expression. The obvious is the cool nonchalance of the “no problem” teen attitude, masking the inner teenage turmoil of anxiety, self-doubt, and distress. She will get better at showing acceptable levels of emotion in her peer group, because she will want to learn the rules in order to be part of that group. In fact, it can be a useful way of learning how to manage inner feelings.

“Fake it till you make it” really works: Acting as if you are calm and cool has the effect of reducing anxiety. She will also find that others will react positively to her for putting on a strong front and thus “reinforce” this behavior, making her want to develop the skill more.

Q: My daughter is so impatient to be grown up she makes herself miserable. How can I help her to slow down?
A: Wanting immediate gratification can be very frustrating when it’s a future that she is after! Try exploring her dreams with her and finding the steps she needs to take now in order for her achieve her future goals. If she can see the route she is following and know the importance of each step, she may feel more satisfied with her life now. For example, if she wants to study medicine, taking a first-aid course now would be really interesting and possibly helpful. Or if she wants to look into culinary school, she could try cooking the family meal once a week.

Perhaps you can encourage a little “mindfulness” in your daughter. This is the ability to live in the moment, mindfully. Encourage her to pay attention to the things around her right now. Get her to describe them as she experiences them, but without making judgments. If she gets distracted and asks what is for dinner, or says she is bored, that’s fine, redirect her attention back to now. See what she discovers. Get her to study something ordinary in her everyday life in this way—a pencil, the front door, her watch, anything. Get her to tell you what she notices. If she is prepared to try this with you, she’ll be amazed by what she discovers. She will notice colors, textures, sensations, smells, tastes, and sounds that she never noticed before. You may have to reassure her that you have not taken leave of your senses! Mindfulness is a combination of Eastern philosophy and Western psychology that is used for people with various kinds of physical and mental-health problems. But it is also helpful for ordinary people to give new meaning to everyday life. It may help her feel more open to discussing all the wonderful and important things she is doing now in preparation for her exciting future.

Q: What can I do about teen blues?
A: “Everything is wrong, I’ll never do anything special, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.” Teenage blues can be catching. You make some bright suggestions, he looks at you wearily and responds that he will never be what he wants to be, and you start to feel depressed yourself. His thinking is general, global, and negative. What you can do to help is to turn his thoughts into something specific, individual, and positive. Get him to think back to yesterday or last weekend, the last time he was more cheerful, and go through hour by hour what he was doing. Get him to score each activity (including lying on the bed looking at the ceiling) according to how much he enjoyed it and how much it gave him a sense of achievement. Now get him to choose one of the activities that scored highest on both counts, maybe playing his guitar, going for a run, or having a friend over to tinker with the car. This can help reposition his thoughts and help him to plan his whole day around pleasurable, productive activities. Afterward he may be able to see that by changing the way he is thinking, he can pull himself out of the doldrums and feel much more positive about himself, his future, and his ability to achieve his goals.
Q: How can a few pimples be the end of the world?
A: Teenagers can be very self-conscious and catastrophic in their thinking. A small pimple might lead your teenager to think that she is hideous, that nobody will want to associate with her, and that everyone is looking at her with a magnifying glass. Adolescents are characteristically self-absorbed and self-conscious, and tend to think in sweeping, negative, and extreme terms. So how can you help?

Perhaps you can get her to consider some of the individuals she knows and likes, who may also have the odd zit or two. Then get her to describe how many pimples they have. Firstly, she will probably not be able to say in any detail, demonstrating that she does not apply the magnifying-glass test to her friends and suggesting that she may be overestimating the scrutiny they give her. Secondly, if she can describe their pimples, she will have to recognize that, despite the state of their skin, they are still likeable, attractive, and her friends.

Be patient, use humor sensitively, help with acne treatment and concealer, and show her that the world will not end.

Q: Is it OK to allow my child to spend ages alone in her bedroom?
A: It is normal for teenagers to want to be alone and to guard their privacy. They are often moody and unresponsive. Retreating to her bedroom following an upset at school or at home is a good way of having space and time to sort things out and cope with her emotions. Spending hours alone in her room, listening to music, staring out the window dreamily, sleeping, planning her brilliant career, imagining… then emerging as if nothing has happened, refreshed and ravenous, is perfectly normal. Her time alone is important, and you are right to respect it.
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