Teri and Bob had been very involved in their daughter’s education and her life from the start. When they found out that their beautiful baby girl Emily (she is their second child) was deaf, it shook up their whole world. Teri took a leave of absence from her job in order to give Emily all the time and attention she needed – going to speech therapy and audiology appointments and working on speech and language. Bob had to take on extra overtime at work to cover the lost income with Teri at home. Both Teri and Bob made real sacrifices over the years and were motivated by how much they wanted to see Emily become independent and successful. She had a rough time in preschool and at the beginning of elementary school. She needed a lot of tutoring and extra help to get started reading.
Now that she was starting 10th grade, Teri and Bob thought that they saw how worthwhile the sacrifices were – Emily had good speech and language, had lots of friends, and was getting Bs in school without extra help. They felt such pride in Emily’s accomplishments and felt that the sacrifices were worthwhile.
But now the adorable and cheerful little girl had somehow disappeared before their eyes! In her place was a teenager – with a gloomy face and a grouchy complaint about almost everything! She didn’t want to do anything with the family anymore. It seemed that she rolled her eyes whenever her parents even tried to talk to her. Teri and Bob really felt shocked since they always had such a close relationship with Emily, they felt so betrayed by her rejection of them.
Many parents will tell you – loving your teenagers is not usually the problem, living with them is! These years can be very trying times for parents and they often feel that they are unprepared to handle the emotional roller coaster ride. Understanding what changes your adolescent is going through during this difficult transition from child to adult can help.
Adolescents need to develop their own identity. To do this they need to figure out: 1) who am I? 2) how am I different from everyone else? This process of deciding who I am and how I differ makes the adolescent focus on how she is different from her family. It forces her to highlight differences – even though at the end, often adolescents remain very connected to their families. Your child is supposed to do this! It doesn’t represent a rejection of you and your values for your child to tell you that she feels differently – Try not to take this personally. If your child tells you “You could never understand because you hear normally!” don’t be hurt and angry. Tell your child – yes, you do not know what it feels like to have a hearing loss. But you try to understand things from other peoples’ perspectives – your child included.
Peers become more important to adolescents. Close friendships provide adolescents with opportunities to learn about themselves, learn to take the perspective of another person and learn to develop intimate ties with a person outside of their family. These are very important things to learn. Also, close friendships help adolescents cope with the stresses of their stage of life. Its okay if your child would prefer to spend the day with her friends rather than with family – this is normal. You might rather that your child spend lots of time with you, like she did when she was younger – but if your child wants to spending more time with friends, that is completely normal.
Adolescence is a confusing time. Kids often experience the conflict of feeling very grown up and mature sometimes, but on the other hand, still wanting to be taken care of or feeling very inexperienced and not sure what to do on their own. Kids can seem sulky or moody especially to their parents because of the difficulty of this period and the challenge of putting feelings like these into words. You can ask your child “do you want to talk?” but don’t worry too much if their moods seem to swing. Adolescents will often “let their hair down” at home – taking out all of their frustration on their family – where they feel safe and are sure that they will remain accepted no matter what.
There is a lot of pressure to succeed. There can be so much stress on adolescents to do well in school, get into college and whatever else is going on in their lives. Adolescents often feel that that everyone wants so much of them and in truth, they often expect a lot of themselves. Parents naturally want to see their children succeed in school and do well in life in general. But it is helpful not to get too worked up about grades and standardized test scores. Kids with hearing loss have often had years of intensive speech therapy and tutoring and may feel worn out – like we all do sometimes. Try to keep your expectations realistic and talk with your child about taking breaks when she needs to. Adolescents can go through periods of burn-out too.
Adolescents want more autonomy. They want to go places by themselves and they want to make more decisions for themselves. This is a good thing in the big picture: parents want their children to be able to be independent and take care of themselves as they become adults. But it can cause conflict when adolescents want more independence than parents think is safe or wise. Understanding where adolescents are coming from can go a long way to keeping a good working relationship with your adolescent child. Listen to your child. Ask your child to explain her perspective. Explain your thoughts and concerns. The silver lining of conflict is the opportunity to model to your child how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Keep the lines of communication open by listening to your child when she is willing to talk to you and parents should be open with their child too.
Adolescents still want their parents to be involved with them – just on their own, changing terms. Having a common interest or activity can be a good way for parents and adolescents to have something that gets them together and talking other than fighting over cleaning up rooms or curfew. Somehow, make time for doing something pleasant together with your adolescent child. An interest or hobby – like playing tennis or doing puzzles is great. Just doing something together helps strengthen your ties and communicates to your child that even if you disagree on things or wind up punishing your child, you still like being together and value your child. The chance to talk on the ride over is a great bonus, but not required! If you used to have a regular weekly, monthly activity and now your child doesn’t have the time or interest, don’t lose heat. Make it as flexible as you can. If you can’t think of any activity to bring you together, you can invite your adolescent child out to have a coffee/hot cocoa with you.
One more note: parents of children with hearing loss often put their hearts and souls into raising their child, not to mention time, effort, and money. They feel so involved with this child’s special needs and will do everything to see them succeed. It can be hard work for parents too –working through this stage of their development as parents when their help and involvement is less wanted and appreciated. Try not to feel rejected – your child will still need and want your love and guidance. You will have to figure out how to adapt to the natural changes your adolescent is going through at this turbulent time. But how worth it to have a good relationship with a child who is growing into an independent person! Understand that change is often painful even if it is ultimately positive and healthy. It’s an adjustment for you too, as parents.
To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. ~Henri Bergson~