The Words of the Shin Family

When children go through teenage years, parents undergo the most difficult phase in life

Young Suk Shin
November 2013
President of the Nauni Family Counseling Center

When a family goes on a trip, children learn a lot from the parents. As children become teenagers, they physically, intellectually and mentally grow. They recognize their identity as they experience more of their external environment, and form their sense of self as they obtain more knowledge. Alongside these developments, however, children also start thinking and acting differently from the parents, resulting in conflicts.

When children go through their teenage years, parents likewise undergo their most difficult phase in life; they are faced with problems related to their children, how to support and care for their own parents, and their own life problems. For the family to safely navigate this difficult time, they should be able to actively cope with their changing circumstances and should be able to understand each other through smooth communication between family members.

The fifth development stage within the family-life cycle is the adolescent stage. The adolescent stage refers to the teenage phase from age thirteen to eighteen and applies to the time when children attend middle and high school. Children in adolescence experience extreme physical changes and intellectual growth, and they may also experience various extreme sentiments.

Furthermore, it is an important stage by which children establish their self-identity, experience increased independency and become psychologically more independent from their family. Children in this stage start taking more interest in friends and introspect. These changes results in a struggling relationship with parents; mothers, in particular, face greater difficulties by not accepting the way their children act as their children grow distant.

The adolescent stage corresponds to the midlife phase for the parents. Parents in their in knife phase are not only responsible for raising their children and taking care of their parents, but it is also a difficult period for them as they must assume social responsibilities. That is why it is typical for parents with adolescent children to experience the most difficult time.

Adolescents experience an increased independency as they discover more about themselves through physical, mental and intellectual growth and start challenging the authority of their parents. This makes the relationship difficult for parents. In addition, as parents usher in their midlife phase, the marital relationship between the couple and other problems bring about worries for the parents too. Concerns about the life of their own aging parents add an extra burden on their shoulders.

When it comes to the family-life cycle, there are developmental tasks fitting the adolescent stage of children. First of all, the parent -- child relationship must change into one where communication can be freely done within the family system. Children before this adolescent stage experience and learn a lot within the family through the parents by listening and following what the parents say. Through this, what the parents say and how the parents act becomes the children's norm and the parents become models to the children. In addition, the rules within the family regulate their behavior.

However, as children go to school they learn through friends of their age, they ' experience a wider world and learn many new aspects of life. As children reach adolescence, they experience much more in the wider world, they become self-aware, try to find their identity and experience increased independency. As a result, adolescents desire to learn more from the wider world than to stay within the family. For this reason, it is important that parents play the role of mentors, observers, counselors and friends to the children rather than restricting them so that they can freely experience the wider world and learn from it. If parents do not try to confine their children within the parents own boundaries, the children would be able to have expansive dreams about their future and achieve self- development and growth.

Second, parents must be able to overcome the difficulties of middle age. The middle age stage typically refers to adults in their forties to fifties. Middle-aged parents experience many changes. Men experience physical aging, concerns regarding success or failure within their work field, and changes within family life. On the other hand, women experience their children's independence and a biological change through menopause.

Middle-aged couples in particular tend to find more interest in self-development or desires and experience a crisis unique to the middle-age phase. Low satisfaction in married life may lead to difficulties between the couple. Couples that cannot overcome or solve these struggles can also experience divorce in middle age. More than anything else, it is necessary for middle-aged parents that face such difficulties to re-establish their relationship as a couple. Couples should also invest the same level of attention and love into each other that they invest in their children and parents; they must trust each other and put more efforts into creating a new loving marital relationship. When a couple's relationship recovers, it becomes the key basis of happiness within the family.

Third, they must make the necessary preparations to take care of their aging parents.

When adult children reach the age of forty or fifty, parents are between sixty to eighty years old. That is why middle-aged children are in a difficult phase, as they must carry the children's responsibilities toward their parents and parental responsibilities toward their own young children at the same time. With the rise in the average life expectancy, we see an increase in the number of middle-aged children that have to support their aging parents.

Middle-aged children feel the moral obligation to reciprocate their parents' love and to provide support. However, opinions of aging parents and their children concerning meeting needs may differ and cause an uncomfortable relationship between the aging parents and adult children.

One must be able to figure out each other's needs through frequent conversations. The method by which adult children support their aging parents becomes the model by which their own young children may follow in the future during their old age. Hence, there is a higher chance that our children affectionately take care of us in old age if we take good care of our own aging parents. Furthermore, by being in touch with one's old parents, children become aware of the time when they should prepare themselves to accept death.

This is an actual story of a typical housewife who has been married for twenty years and has a regular and happy family. Recently, her son, who is in his third year of middle school, could not adjust to school life and ended up missing many classes. His class teacher recommended receiving some counseling. The mother also requested counseling. He grew up receiving full support and love from his mother. He grew up under diligent parents, a reserved but gentle mother and a strict father, and was educated in such a family environment.

Until his second year of middle school, he did great in his studies and followed his parents' wishes. He was a source of pride to his parents and received much praise as he grew up.

However, when he entered his third year of middle school, the son felt as though his parents did not understand him and were trying to make him into a robot by suppressing and controlling him. He then started talking back to his parents and defying them. He even missed fifty school days because he did not want to go to school. The family was in a state where the child kept hanging out with friends outside and kept avoiding talking to his parents. The mother, who had had a close relationship with the child until then, was at a loss, not knowing what to do while the father was in serious conflict with his son. Not a single day passed without discomfort, insecurity and tension; the family suffered much distress.

This is a case where the son could not cope with his parents' high expectations and excessive attention, perceiving it as pressure and control from his parents. The son reacted to it by defying and challenging his parents. The mother's excessive attention chocked the son and the father's strict and extreme control raised resistance in their son. The son ended up having many skirmishes with his father because of the son's strong assertiveness. The son was suffering from worries and anxieties in the process of finding his identity by himself while going through repeated clashes with his parents.

In order to let our adolescent children adjust well to the family environment while experiencing the wider world, parents must be able to encourage and give happiness to their children by having many conversations with them as friends.

Constant learning by the parents is the key in becoming great mentors to their children. Learning about the role of parents and searching for information on how the world is changing would not only help the parents have open conversations with their children, but parents would also be able to provide important information when it comes to decision making concerning the future of their children. 

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