Ángel Peralbo

Ángel Peralbo, Psychologist 

"Teenagers expect attention, boundaries and active listening from their parents."

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Adolescence is a stage in which we leave childhood behind. And it allows us to become young people and adults. The first fundamental feature is that in a short time, a whole revolution takes place. They are also fully aware of everything that is happening to them. And they don't find it to be too logical. It is a phase to break away. And it requires paying attention to them. We have talked a lot about them, but perhaps we are not going into detail about what their real needs can be.

There are problems that can be seen and others that cannot be seen. And parents have to be very attentive. As it is also the stage in which they tend to isolate themselves or to manifest all the intense emotions they are going through, it is important to pay attention to it. Starting with those that are clear to see, such as risky behavior. Risky behaviors are typical of adolescence. If we extrapolate the view to when they are adults, that is where most of the problems linked to the lack of impulse control are consolidated. Of course, addictions. These risk elements, such as alcohol, cannabis use and tobacco, are a major problem. Because when the habits are formed at that age, they become very difficult to self-regulate in adulthood. Not so much the issue of sex and early behavior, because it is the age at which it happens. I would say that the element of concern is when we add it to those other risk behaviors. Because it happens in situations of genuine lack of control. In fact, we see more and more kids who do it and then feel bad. Because they have not had that control to actually do so. These are two of the big problems that I understand need to be addressed.

Another major problem is related to eating disorders. It is currently one of the biggest problems, and it continues to grow. And it continues to grow because it ends up becoming a lifestyle. It becomes a way of learning to eat, and of learning to live. It is not only teenagers, but much younger children who start by looking at their idols. From an aesthetic point of view, they are very precocious, with styles and sizes that are sometimes absolutely unfeasible. Therefore, it is possible to start manifesting the things they see from a very young age. Styles that are too daring for their age or food manipulation behaviors.

"We must seek the balance between an overly authoritarian and an overly laid back educational style."

Before, I talked about the problems that are not seen. Really, we will only be able to address those problems if we are looking out for them, and establish communication channels with our children that allow us a window in. Otherwise, it is an impossible task. From a tremendously distant, cold, very authoritarian educational style, it will be very difficult for us to get access to these types of issues. From an absolutely undefined, tremendously flexible style, where we are less like parents and more like peers, that will not happen either. That is because we will lose that thoroughness. It is a perfectly attainable balance.

On the one hand, we always say that teenagers want some kind of boundaries from parents, because their friends will not set any, but they also want parents to be active listeners and be really interested. Although sometimes, paradoxically, it does not seem that way.

One of the most important things is to leave our comfort zone. Parents feel safe when talking about topics related to school, how much you have eaten, how you have eaten, who you have been with, what you have done and how much homework you have. There are a number of topics that will be subject to repetition and insistence, which teenagers clearly no longer put up with. There comes a time when they will divert your attention. And if they isolate themselves, this will not help us to connect. The first: forget about this type of communication. The value of the communication is the outcome and the effect for the recipient. Teenagers are recipients of other types of communication.

We want them to understand what responsibility is, what it means to be an adult, because we already consider them adults for a great many issues, but it is difficult for us to understand a stage we have already passed through and that we could perfectly understand; it is difficult to relate. We need greater proximity to the teenager. That is, being able to listen to them, be able identify their interests. One of the great difficulties is being able to understand what is going on in their head, what interests them, without being critical. Once we adopt a much more empathetic language, and try to see what games they have on their console or what are things that, as adults, we might not be interested in at all, there can be an important connection.

What they want is for their parents to be interested in their stuff. That's essential. Even if we find their stuff trivial or contradictory to what we think - that path, those children who play sport, play that music, who do those extracurricular things that parents approved of. And suddenly they start wanting to do things, like one kid who wanted to do boxing. And the parents immediately start thinking about them being a tremendous boxer. Or the kid who wants to start playing an instrument, and to play with a group, and parents are already starting to panic because they start associating that with the risky behaviors that sometimes worry us. You have to give yourself a reality check and connect with your teenagers, and they will be delighted that you have. Not to share it, because we are realistic, and we know that as parents we don't get told everything, but it will start to trickle in. Especially if they understand that when they tell you something, you won't get angry. And beyond that, they won't criticize me and tell me that I'm wrong for thinking something If these two elements are well managed, everything else will get easier.

A graduate in Psychology and with a postgraduate degree in Clinical Psychology of Children and Adolescents, Ángel Peralbo has spent 20 years studying the social and biological changes that occur in adolescence. He is also the author of the books "Educar sin ira" and "De niñas a malotas."