While the teenage years can be a roller-coaster ride of self-discovery – braces, bad haircuts and pimples included – supporting your child as he or she blossoms into an adult requires a delicate approach that equips them with all they need to make it on their own, while resisting the urge to take control or hand it over on a silver platter.
“It’s so important to keep the lines of communication open. This isn’t always easy but the best way to do this is to find out what your teen really likes – ask questions and observe them, but try not to be judgemental,” says Justine Bain, founder of Sandy Seeds Wellness Project (www.sandyseeds.com), which works with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority to run workshops in schools with the aim of creating a happy, healthy environment. “Try to get them to open up about what is happening in their lives as it’ll be much easier to help them navigate any changes.”
Justine encourage teens to focus on their emotional intelligence by getting them to talk about their feelings.
“Being able to self-regulate emotions is key and if they are able to recognise the signs of stress and anxiety, then they can draw on tools such as mindful breathing and meditation to help them through,” she says. “Creating a mindful home culture is a great basis for this and can help so much during transitional periods.”
Help them take flight
One of the biggest issues facing teenagers in the UAE today is a lack of ‘real life’ experience, say the experts.
“The transition from being a dependent young child to an independent and self-sufficient young adult ready to embark on his or her own life is complex,” says Katie Meneely, mum of two teenagers and co-founder of Naviture (www.naviture.me), which was set up specifically to help teens build the life skills needed to become capable, confident and competent individuals though coaching, development and leadership programmes.
“There can be a lot of stress caused by exam pressure and workload along with expectations from parents and teachers. This can cause anxiety, resulting in friction in a family… In the move towards leaving home, teens naturally start to detach from family life and this can also be a difficult adjustment – usually more so for the parents!” she continues. “Teenagers start to voice their opinions and want more of a say in family decisions and this is all before you add hormones into the mix.”
This is where coaching can play a vital role. It’s different to mentoring in that coaching uses questioning and active listening techniques to build a picture of where that person stands in his or her life and find solutions to the challenges faced.
“Tools are chosen by the coach to support changes in behaviour or attitudes,” says Katie. “The client feels empowered and in control as the solutions are their own, so they are more likely to be motivated to carry out any changes needed. This is why it works so well for teenagers.”
The coach acts as a friend, listening to ideas and supporting decisions, while also highlighting risk and providing a safety net.
What makes living in the UAE more of a challenge for teens, says Kate, is the minimal work experience opportunities available. “If I were to compare to a typical teen in the UK, for instance, they have opportunities to babysit, work in a shop or have a paper round. Not only that, but most schools run a work experience programme where teens attend a work placement for a couple of weeks. This builds skills such as initiative, effective communication, customer service, resilience and organisation, as well as a strong work ethic and an appreciation for the value of money.”
It’s not all bad, however, as UAE teens do reap the benefits of mixing with many different nationalities and cultures. “This is a great way of forming an understanding and appreciation of similarities and differences – something that’s vital for becoming global citizens,” says Katie.
Coaching the teen
With coaching, teens can start by establishing where they stand academically, socially and emotionally and then build their vision for the future by setting specific yet achievable goals with a clear course of action to help them get there. Coaching supports them by offering tools that create solutions to the challenges they face, with activities such as group discussions and problem-solving to help them learn through experience, with regular catch-ups to measure progress.
“Teenage issues are often tied up with how they’re doing at school, specifically with their subjects and exam stress,” says Katie. “Coaching provides ways to deal with these issues, it encourages setting goals to provide motivation and it raises confidence to improve performance.”
”They really enjoy having someone focus on them, who is not a parent or teacher, giving them one-on-one attention and helping them realise that they have their own solutions,” she adds. “The challenge is sometimes the questioning. It can go quite deep and teens aren’t always used to being asked their opinion on things and how they feel about their lives. That’s why it’s so important to quickly build up a rapport and establish trust – they have to feel comfortable with the coach in order to be honest and get the most out of the sessions.”
To help deliver the programmes, Kate enlisted the help of Darryn Maxwell, an ex-British Army Major who raised his two kids, who are now grown-up, as a single parent.
“We love the energy teens bring to our courses. Seeing the growth in capability and the smiles they take home makes our job all the more rewarding,” he says. “One of my most memorable moments was watching an 11-year-old grasp leadership skills and lead her team to success in a range of challenges more effectively than some adults I’ve worked with.”
Ultimately, making a smooth transition to adulthood that’s as stress free as possible is the biggest factor that will help get your pride and joy to make a bold entrance into the big, wide world.
“Remember, our children can pick up on our stress as well, so it is important that we, as parents, set a good example,” says Justine. “On top of educating them about how the brain works and how to manage emotions, teaching them practical skills such as how to cook and feed themselves nutritious foods will go a long way in building independence. If your teen shows respect, empathy and can self-regulate their emotions, they are on a great track to move forward in life.”