Dr. Mojgan Makki
Understanding your Teen's Temperament
Temperament is an extremely important component of parenting, but it is often overlooked. Knowing your teen’s temperament can have a significant impact on how we, as adults, can help them function more effectively.
To illustrate the importance of adding temperament to the parenting equation, let’s consider this anecdote about a hypothetical family with two teens. Both teens are bright, doing well in school, involved in sports, and have many friends. Yet their parents wonder how two in the same family could be so different. One teen moves at a slow pace, is easy going, adaptable, and laid back while the other is energetic, intense, quick responding, and races through life. The first teen fits his parents’ lifestyle well, but they are frequently upset and irritated by the other teen’s high activity and intensity, and find this behavior intrusive and disruptive. The differences in behavior between the two teens reflect individual characteristics of temperament, and these differences are powerful contributors to the ups and downs of everyday life.
Temperament is a biologically-based personality style. You probably noticed certain things about your teens when they were very young. For example, they may have been shy or outgoing, quiet or vociferous, meticulous and exact, or disorganized and carefree. There is no such thing as good or bad temperament. It is simply the characteristics we are born with and they are multi-dimensional. Some people are highly adaptable and others are more inflexible. Some seek thrills and take risks while others are more cautious and guarded. It is the way the child’s temperament fits with his or her environment that results in positive or negative behavior.
The study of temperament started as early as ancient Egyptian medicine and Hippocrates (400 BC). In the recent years, research about temperament has grown rapidly, and findings suggest one’s temperament affects many areas such as school performance, empathy, and the development of conscience.
Here are a few examples of temperament traits to consider in your teen:
Activity: Is your teen constantly moving or more relaxed?
Regularity: Does your teen enjoy a regular schedule or thrive on being spontaneous?
Initial reaction: Does your teen approach new people or experiences without hesitation or does he/she shy away or prefer to watch for a while before engaging in new experiences?
Adaptability: How does your teen do with change?
Intensity: Does your teen react strongly to a situation or respond in a calm and quiet manner?
Mood: Is your teen’s demeanor generally happy or unhappy?
Distractibility: How long is your teen’s attention span? How easily does your teen gets distracted?
Persistence: Does your teen stay with an activity for a long period of time or lose interest quickly?
Sensitivity: Is your teen bothered by external stimuli like noises, textures, or lights or does he/she seem to ignore them?
What to do next: 1) Assess your own temperament
When thinking about the factors above that make up temperament, imagine them on a scale of one to five. It’s likely that you may be near the extreme end of the spectrum in some areas and, in other areas, you may be more in the middle. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, but there are degrees to which you possess certain characteristics.
2) Compare your temperament to your teenager’s
It is important to understand your temperament so you can compare it to your teen’s. The fit between you and your teen can help you recognize areas where you match and areas where you may struggle. It can help you build a stronger relationship with your teen and find ways to parent your teen more effectively, especially during current stressful times. Remember, temperament isn’t good or bad. It is simply the set of characteristics you were born with.
How Similar or Different Temperaments Can Affect Parenting:
1) If you both have similar activity levels, you will likely get along better and enjoy doing things together.
2) A parent and teen who both tend to have strong reactions and opinions, might end up in some heated disagreements.
3) If you both tend to have high-intensity, emotional reactions, your teen may get really upset when he/she sees you are upset.
4) If you love being spontaneous and are raising a child who needs structure and routine, behavioral problems can arise because the teen will likely be anxious and upset when he/she doesn’t know the plans ahead of time.
5) A parent who is very adaptable—but is raising a teen who is rigid—can help their teen adjust to new experiences by showing patience and modeling involvement in new activities.
While you won’t be able to change your teen’s temperament, you may be able to help him/her with certain things, once you are aware of the similarities and differences in your temperaments.
You also can’t change your own temperament, but you can change your parenting techniques. Determine what areas are your strengths and where you have weaknesses. Then look for new strategies that may be more helpful to your teen. Pay attention to effective ways you can communicate with your teen, especially when discussing difficult pandemic-related topics such ongoing changes with school, socialization, and safety precautions.
If you would like professional help to better understand your teen’s temperament, please contact Solutions Northshore.