Teen Stages

by Ken and Elizabeth Mellor

Reviewed by      Karen Fontaine
 
Such is the 21st-century appetite for parental enlightenment that by the time a child becomes a teenager, his or her parents are likely to have devoured countless tomes related to the pre-natal, newborn baby, infant, toddler, preschool and primary-school years. Up The Duff? Check. Baby Love? Check. What To Expect in the Toddler Years? Check. Kidwrangling? Check!
 
It’s not uncommon, then, that by the time said child is no longer a child – although not yet an adult – there exists a diminished appetite for parenting titles. Parents might think they have their ‘child’ sussed – and that although the teen years won’t be a picnic, they’re confident they have an inkling of the type of things they’re likely to find on the menu.
 
Australian parenting educators Ken and Elizabeth Mellor are here to disabuse you of that notion. The Mellors, who each have more than 40 years’ experience in working with teenagers and parents, have renewed and updated this book, which they first released in 2003.
 
Like the rapidly evolving world in which our children are growing up, much has changed on Planet Teenager, and this latest edition contains information on increasingly significant issues for parents such as cyberbullying, pornography, teen suicide, social media and mentoring.
 

WHAT (it’s all about)

 
A modern manual for dealing with Teenager Version 20.13, Teen Stages is crammed with tips, case studies and practical advice on how to deal best with teenagers. 
 
It also explores some of the deeper forces stirring below the surface in young people’s lives, offers explanations as to why the early teenage years are so demanding, and discusses the critical importance to teens of the community at large.
 
A unique feature of this book is Ken and Elizabeth’s emphasis on teenage developmental stages, with 60 per cent of its pages devoted to dissecting them. 
 
As the Mellors say “teenagers go through a predictable sequence of stages during which their needs change very distinctively”. The Mellors hope that having information about these stages will be a confidence boost to many parents who had not previously realised how to explain, or cope with, the many shifts and changes their teens were going through.
 
The Mellors’ key theme is how important it is for parents and other significant adults to change their approach in parallel to the changes young people are experiencing. 
 
“Our changes need to be specific to each stage so that we meet the needs arising in the young at each stage,” they write. “And knowledge is power! When we adapt what we do to meet their needs, young people usually thrive. When we do not, they usually get into difficulties.”
 

WHY (you should read it)

 
At the heart of the Mellors’s message is this: parents need to stay more involved, not less, as their children become teenagers. “They need active parental guidance, ongoing interest and, despite all evidence to the contrary, they actually want clear boundaries set and to be controlled!” the Mellors write.
 
A fabulous feature of Teen Stages is its second half, devoted in its entirety to what the Mellors call ‘The Six Stages’, which are:
 
The baby – thirteen-year-olds
The dissenter – fourteen-year-olds  
The fledgling – fifteen-year-olds
The sweet and sour – sixteen-year-olds
The romantic – seventeen-year-olds
The world leader – eighteen-year-olds to 21
 
Stage by stage, the Mellors outline how significantly and, at times, dramatically they change – and how important it is for parents to match what they do with their changes so that teens get what they need.

 

 

WELL…

 
If you were an avid reader of Baby Love, you’ll no doubt recall it was the definitive guide on how you could solve your baby’s problem, be it colic, fear of strangers or exploding poos. Little, if anything, was expected of the infant in question.
 
In much the same way, the Mellors give you the tools, invite you to look under the hood and then they invite you to more or less recondition your teen’s ‘engine’ right then and there. It’s all about how your approach to them has the power to make or break their burst towards adulthood.
 
Some of it is vaguely terrifying stuff. The Mellors do, however, provide a mountain of pragmatic and practical advice on reading teens, getting through to them and keeping them in check at what is a critical time in their development.
 
As the Mellors write in the epilogue: “Over the years we have concluded that persistence and problem-solving are some of the most useful qualities for parents to cultivate for, as we have discovered, so much is dependent on them.”
 
They continue: “All problems can be solved. Just because we do not have the answer right now, does not mean that there is no answer, only that we have not found it yet. To succeed, all we need to do is to persist in the search for solutions and in trying out the things that seem promising, even if the process takes a long time.”
 
For avid readers of parenting titles, those might be the sweetest, most encouraging words of all.

Here's an excerpt of a particularly profound part of the book

“A wondrous organ, the human brain is beautifully designed so that we arrive on this planet with some generalised wiring or circuitry already in place. This is enough to keep us alive and to manage as babies, provided that our mothers and fathers, or others in their stead, care for us. More than this is required though, because to survive as we get older we need to refine and develop this wiring.
 
Our life experiences do this. The repetitive movements babies make, as well as the repetition of instructions, encouragement, limit setting and the other things we do with young children, are all involved. The repetition is important here. It is through this that the necessary nerve fibres are formed and consolidated. And it is these fibres that enable children to maintain what they are learning. Did you ever wonder why you had to repeat yourself so often for your children to learn even simple things?
 
The same processes are required for the teenage brain to develop. We need to take teenagers repeatedly through the ‘drills’ that program their new brain areas. Significantly, these are to do with self-control, social awareness and maturity, and self-management and planning. In other words, we need to resocialise our teenage children. And the way they act shows us this very clearly at times.
 
Does this take you back to when your children were babies, toddlers and young children? It should, because their needs are very similar. As with babies and young children, we have very important parts to play in teenage reprogramming. Without our involvement, teenage brains will not develop normally. This is very much related to the need for our involvement. The parallels between young children and teenagers are remarkable! 
 
Generally, what they need is physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual learning – repeated as many times as necessary for the rewiring to occur. All the conversations and other exchanges about the insignificant and significant things in life are part of this.
 
We can explain some of what is going on clearly by noticing the parallels with some computers. The analogy is not far-fetched. Think of teenagers as ‘human bio-computers’. Now imagine that the life experience of their first 12 years installs ‘software’ called ‘Living Life – Child Programs’. This software contains all sorts of instructions on how to handle the various inner experiences, people, situations and events that they encounter in their lives.
If you are familiar enough with computers, you will know that software becomes out of date due to various types of changes. Some are changes in hardware. These usually result from advances in technology, like developing faster gadgets for doing the calculations. Other changes are connected with what we start to want our computers to do some time after we get them, for example, when we expect them something different from what they currently can. The point is that old software often does not work in more advanced computers. Also, old software is frequently not designed to handle the new jobs we now want our computers to do. The only solution is to upgrade.
 
The same applies to ‘teenage human bio-computers’. They need upgrades. During childhood, their systems become increasingly sophisticated. And, while successive modifications of the ‘Living Life’ software are carried out to cope with these changes, they are not geared to the highly sophisticated ‘bio-computer’ that appears in the early teenage years. Just think of the differences in capacity between a two-year-old child and a fourteen-year-old, for example. Also, think how much more is expected of children as they get older.
 
The upgrade process starts at around thirteen years of age. The upgraded ‘software’ is ‘Living Life – Adult Programs’ and it takes about seven years to install. 
 
Installing the new programs requires repetition, and repetition of repetition – lots of it! Research shows that without the repetition, the new patterns will not be embedded so they are routinely available and used. So keep repeating, keep repeating, keep repeating…! Say things over and over again: ‘Do the dishes’, ‘Come home on time’, ‘Be polite’, ‘Do your homework’, and expect compliance. Also program them with messages such as: ‘You are intelligent (think clearly, are caring…)’. Tell them, ‘We have your back’, ‘We love you…’”


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