Michael Myles, Dean of Hope Academy, and Dr. Erica Lam, a clinical psychologist and therapist at The Wellness Centre, sat down with Cayman Parent to discuss some of the issues Cayman’s youth is facing today, as well as how parents can help their children navigate the stressful times of adolescence.
– Jennifer Marshall & Clare Louise McGrath
You made it through the ‘terrible twos’, confident in your problem-solving abilities, and with the sense that you had earned yourself a parenting merit badge! Fast forward 12 years and though the outbursts may feel vaguely familiar. Your once always smiling and rule-abiding child has been replaced with a moody, eye-rollingly defiant teenager who you struggle to recognise, and at times understand.
Adolescence is a period of raging hormones, perplexing body changes and generally tense relations all around. With that being said, there are ways to ease the process. Whether they admit it or not, this is the time in your child’s development when they are most in need of your guidance and support. As your teen embarks on their quest to discover who they are and where they “fit in”, it’s important that they are being guided into becoming the best version of themselves that they can be. Their desire for independence and a heightened curiosity means teens are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure, but through positive parenting techniques you can help your teen navigate the difficulties of adolescence and assist in your child’s development into an independent, responsible and well-rounded young adult.
Teens are developing their own ideas and opinions, searching for answers to the ‘big questions’ and trying on various hats as they discover their individuality. During this period of rapid change, one of the most important things you can do for your teen is keep the line of communication open. Creating a healthy child-parent relationship, where your teen is encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings is not always easy and requires both sides of the equation to work together. Make the effort to spend time talking to your teen every day, and you will find that communicating with them about the ‘big things’ will become much easier.
Michael Myles, the Dean of Hope Academy and coordinator of a number of social youth programmes on-Island, believes there are still a number of subjects that are considered ‘taboo’ amongst Caymanians such as sex, drugs and mental illness.
Almost 60% of young people surveyed in schools in 2013 hadn’t discussed sex with their parents or a close adult, and girls tended to have had fewer such discussions than boys.
One consequence of these statistics has been an increase in teenage pregnancies – from 2009 to 2013, approximately 6% of all live births each year were to girls aged 15-19 years old, equating to 50 babies per year.
Give your teen the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns, while you listen without judgement. A teen who has had the chance to talk through their problems with a trusted adult is more likely to make educated and responsible decisions.
Your teen likely can’t wait to be an adult. With adulthood comes owning their own car, moving out and finally achieving the independence they’re already so desperate for. With that being said, your teen may not grasp that with increased freedom comes increased responsibility.
In Cayman there are a concerning number of children being raised largely by nannies who are not given responsibility for chores or taught to earn their privileges. Taking this into account, it is vital that a child’s parent or guardian strives to raise an independent teen who will be equipped to deal with the realities of adulthood.
As your teen matures, they will complete tasks because they understand it is their obligation to do so, not because mum and dad told them to!
Natural curiosity and a penchant for pushing the limits means a teen left to his or her own devices is more likely to get into trouble. Adolescents lack the gift of foresight and often act impulsively or in a reactive way and teenagers with more time on their hands are much more likely to take careless risks and make bad lifestyle choices.
In Cayman, gang culture is a particular threat for disengaged boys who lack supervision, positive reinforcement and discipline at home. A government report states that from 2005 to 2015, 43 young men, with an average age of 24 years, were shot from gang related violence in West Bay and George Town.
A survey conducted on American high school students in 2012 by the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University determined that 30% of teens surveyed were twice as likely to use alcohol or drugs if left unsupervised at home. It is relatively easy for teenagers to access alcohol in Cayman with many businesses operating on a trust system rather than requiring identification. Recreational and prescription drug use is quite prevalent amongst students with alcohol, marijuana and prescription medications being most readily available and used most often.
Rather than granting your teen free-reign of the house after-school, encourage their involvement in extracurricular activities. Children with healthy hobbies can have increased leadership skills, better time-management and stronger interpersonal skills.
Whether in the form of compliments, a sign of affection or even disciplining your children when it’s called for, you fortify your child’s self-esteem daily. Strong self-esteem is essential for children to develop positive behavioural characteristics, such as independence, healthy risk taking, assuming responsibility, and more. However no parent is perfect, and we have all at one time or another unintentionally missed an opportunity to build our children’s confidence. During the teenage years, when particularly fragile egos may be paired with turbulent emotions, it can be normal to lack self-assurance and be more critical of one’s mistakes.
It is important for parents to be extra-vigilant during this time so as to prevent teen’s insecurities developing into a persistently low self-esteem issue, which, if left unaddressed can lead to other issues affecting your child’s overall well-being. A lowered self-esteem can make your teen less emotionally resilient, inviting the potential for mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety to take root.
Depression in particular is a common psychological complaint associated with adolescence. It can stem from one or a combination of factors including:
Research shows that 50% of mental health disorders begin at the age of 14 and one-third of adolescent deaths are suicides triggered by depression. The Cayman Islands does not currently have a youth mental health residential facility, however, in 2013, 9% of almost 4,000 patients treated in a mental health outpatient facility were children and adolescents aged 17 or younger. From the same report, half of the students confided that during the past two months they had felt so sad or hopeless for more than a day or two that nothing seemed worthwhile.
Speaking with Dr. Erica Lam, she stressed the importance of establishing a safe space for adolescents to feel comfortable and encouraged to open up about issues they may be facing – whether that be to a parent, a guardian, or a trained professional. Though the emotional turbulence of the teenage years unfortunately means it is not always easy for parents to distinguish between a bad mood brought on by raging hormones and a bad mood which points to a more serious underlying issue, monitoring and boosting your teen’s confidence through encouragement, offering guidance and promoting a space for honesty, can boost their self-worth and decrease the likelihood of lowered self-esteem taking root.
New Thinking Skills
Teen brains become more interconnected and gain processing power, due to the increase in brain matter during adolescence.
The accelerated development of the amygdala during teen years is believed to influence emotional responses and hormonal changes. This may cause teens intense experiences of rage, fear, aggression, excitement and sexual attraction.
Abstract reasoning is developed during the teenage years. Teens use their new reasoning ability to think about what others are thinking of them. As peer approval has been proven to be highly rewarding to teens, this ability to see themselves from another’s perspective can lead to an increase in social anxiety.
Adolescents have not yet fully developed the part of the brain responsible for risk-aversion, making them vulnerable to engaging in risky behaviour.
Increased sensitivity to the hormone oxytocin during adolescence has been linked to teens feeling highly self-conscious and like everyone is watching them.
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