THE BLUE WHALE challenge. A trend that has taken the world by a storm. An internet game which challenges its players to kill themselves as a challenge. Many teenagers across the globe are falling prey to this challenge.

It is indeed a worrying trend and a cause of worry for all parents of teenagers. However there are other more pressing and likely causes of worry which parents of teenagers face which unfortunately do not get enough media attention.

Teenage is a difficult age for everyone, the teenager, the parents, and the people around. The child goes through hormonal changes that leave him physically and mentally confused. He/ she do not just deal with physical and psychological changes but sudden social changes as well.
Turn thirteen and the whole society looks at you differently. What was cute and adorable at twelve suddenly becomes wrong or suspicious at thirteen. The girl who played cricket with the neighbourhood kids a year back was praised by everyone. Suddenly she is someone who is ‘hanging with boys’ and by extension ‘potentially spoilt’.

Often schools, colleges and parents have ‘the talk’ with their teenage about the physical changes that they will go through when they grow up. As always the psychological changes and the psychological impact of physical changes are often not discussed or just skimmed over.
But teenage is just not physical, it is so much more. Most of our teenagers are ill equipped to deal with the world which suddenly looks different to them. Teenage suicides, teenage depression and teen pregnancy are more common than we would like to believe. Juvenile crime is a reality too.
The teenagers need help growing up psychologically too. Let us discuss certain issues that do matter to the teenagers

The emotional pendulum: Mood swings are not just restricted to women as many would like to believe. An average teenager faces mood swings almost on a daily basis. From crying spells to anger outbursts mood changes are common. Is the reason only hormonal? Yes the changing hormones do mess up the mood but they are not the only explanations. The teenager is also dealing with a whole lot psychologically. The teenage coincides with the so called formative years academically. The teenager is usually in his/her 8th or 9th grade. They are suddenly expected to be responsible about their future. They are expected to become serious about studies and start focusing ‘only’ on academics. They are expected to know what they want to do for the next fifty years of their life. All this from a kid whose mother helped him with his/her homework till last academic year! He/she is asked to suddenly behave responsibly and help around the house. To start taking interest in family gatherings and rituals. The kid who was running around with friends at weddings is now expected to sit with elders who probably are grilling him about plans for future. No wonder they have mood swings!
Ease the child into acting responsibly. They are dealing with a lot of things physically and socially. It is the parents’ job to make things easier. Remember how you taught the child to ride the bicycle. First with full support, then minimal support, then running beside them to catch them if they fall and then finally letting go completely. That is how you teach your teenager about responsibility too.

The ambivalent parent: Parents of teenagers often are going through issues themselves. They are at the peak of their career and are torn between home and work. The mothers are probably going through menopause and are dealing with their own mood swings. The grandparents are getting older and having health problems. Overall the home atmosphere is likely to be undergoing a change too. And it is stressful for everyone. Parents of teenagers often cannot seem to decide whether their child is a kid or a grown up. They often vacillate between being too strict and authoritative to being too permissive. They fail to set acceptable boundaries or keep changing the rules. The poor teenager does not know what to do.
Let us accept that the teenager is rebellious. So were we. He/she is testing his boundaries and wants to explore. We can help by sitting down with the teenager at the outset and discussing reasonable boundaries. Give explanation to what is acceptable and what is not followed by a logical reason. Logical reason is not ‘because I am your parent’ or ‘because that is how we did it’. A logical explanation is about family rules, safety, priorities and choices. Often the discussion will get heated and unreasonable. Hopefully it is the teenager who is unreasonable and not you.

The devil and the deep sea: Parents of teenager often feel trapped between these two. Should they stop their child from using social media to prevent its ill-effects? But then the child gets isolated from his friends, misses out on information and feels frustrated. Do they allow the child from talking and making friends with the opposite gender or risk the child doing it on the sly (in secret) anyways. Do they allow parties, drinking and nightclubs? What about clothes?
Scary?? Yes most definitely. Again the answer is finding a balance. You cannot shield your teenager from evils of the world but you can provide them weapons to deal with it. Talk to your teenager. Set limits. Make it clear what is acceptable and what is reasonable. But before that make sure that you have accepted it yourself. I have seen a lot of parents change rules midway because they found that other parents were doing something else. Or because someone called them too modern or conservative. Keep the topic open for discussion. Like you may ask them to dress differently when grandparents are visiting or they may want to go for a sleepover at New Years. This can be discussed and solved with a little bargaining.

The parent friend: You wish to be your teenager’s friend. You want him/her to confide in you all his secrets. You want to her to go shopping with you or for a dinner. Excellent! But you cant be their only friend. Teenagers need to interact with their own age group too and they don’t want their parents in that group. Like you want to be their friend but also treat you like a parent when you want, they too need a parent sometime. A mother once told me that her daughter’s friends were friendlier to her than to her daughter. Think of the damage she is doing to her daughter.
Be friendly not the best friend. Encourage him/her to confide but realize that teenagers have secrets which they want to share with friends. Be friendly with their group not become one of the group. Go out with them but not gatecrash all their meetings.

Talk to your teenager. Talk about how you deal with emotions and problems. Tell them about unreasonable situations you have been in. But don’t brag. You are not perfect. Let them see that. Let them see imperfect people can sail through life too.
Teenage is not going to easy. But it is a great teacher. It shows you that life comes with challenges but it is fun to ride the wave.

Dr. Gauri Nadkarni Choudhary
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