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The Danish approach to raising a happy, confident teen

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Tatyana Soares | Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 03/14/23

Here's how to make family life fulfilling when coping with those tricky teenage years.

It’s no mystery that teenage years can prove very trying for parents, and for the teens themselves. And it’s not really surprising if you consider the mental and physical changes they go through, along with all the external pressures they feel from school, friends, and social media.

The good news is that there are techniques at hand to make this transition as smooth as possible, and they come from Danish psychotherapist, Iben Sandahl, in her book, The Danish Way of Raising Teens.

Considering that people from Denmark are considered some of the happiest in the world, the advice from this mom-of-two is definitely worth noting, especially as it’s based on understanding and compassion.

Goodbye “time-out,” hello “time-in”

Parents around the world have been using time-outs as a punishment for years. However, one of the problems of this method is that although it encourages a cooling off period, it doesn’t solve the issue. In fact, isolating a misunderstood teen in their room can actually help them feel even more anger and resentment.

“Ultimatums, power struggles and shaming your teenager teaches them that you are dominant and above them. I often hear time-outs being used to set an example. But there are simply no options to follow a time-out, and they are therefore much like ultimatums,” states Iben, as shared in the Daily Mail.

She explains that teens can’t always control their behavior and they’re better off being guided by parents, not punished. Iben therefore suggests to adopt the “time in” approach, which is more “caring and valuable.”

This technique “provides a break for teenagers to express themselves and calm down in a safe atmosphere, not threatened with ultimatums and being excluded,” Iben points out, adding:

“Having a parent present to co-regulate with the teen and provide language for their feelings, comfort and guidance on alternative methods of expressing themselves makes time-ins a better alternative. If you only point out what your teen is not allowed to do, they will have difficulty figuring out what you want them to do.”

This approach makes sense. Parents are so often quick to tell their kids what not to do, but sometimes our teens are desperate for guidance.

Iben also shares how some families have a “sacred armchair,” where members can sit without being disturbed. “I love this concept because we all need to be close to those who make us feel safe when calming our nervous system down,” explains the psychotherapist.

Give information

One way to provide teens with guidance is to give them the information they need. While there’s plenty of information on the internet, if you’re able to hold a discussion in a way that your child doesn’t feel judged, then you’ll strengthen your relationship and understanding. And an informed teen will feel more confident with any issues they have.

Cope with rejection

Sometimes a teen might shun your attempts at trying to understand what’s going on with them. Sometimes they’ll want to go to their room and mull over what’s bothering them. This might feel like they’re rejecting you, but they’re not. In fact they’re building coping mechanisms that will serve them later in life, after all, you’ll not always be around to help them deal with all their woes.

Don’t take mood changes personally

Don’t take your teen’s mood swings personally. A teen’s brain goes through some serious re-wiring that doesn’t finish until around age 20 for girls, and 22 for boys. And in that time, the teen’s emotional roller-coasters will allow them to grow in empathy.

Keep calm

You might not be aware of the 90-second chemical process that your teen experiences. In a very short space of time your child’s body is filled with chemicals that might make them go from one emotion to the next in a blink of an eye, and the process places them on high alert. If they see you remain calm as their brains are stimulated, it will help calm their own nervous systems as they begin to sync in with your behavior.

Appreciate confusion

In every stage of childhood our kids learn what is no longer acceptable behavior for their age. It doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes they might be a little confused as to why certain actions or ways of speaking are no longer age appropriate. Here gentle guidance is key.

Create fair boundaries

There’s no disputing that our teens need boundaries, but they also need to take risks in order to grow. When setting boundaries, try to make sure they’re reasonable. If there is any discord with your teens, have an open discussion and hear them out before making a decision.

Give chores

It’s no surprise that chores are good for our kids. But Iben points out that chores allow our teens to “zone out” from all their troubles and also enable them to feel useful and to grow mentally.

Build a relationship on trust

Iben shares that the Danish people really value trust, something that leads to confident and happy individuals. By following the points above you’ll be developing a relationship founded in trust. Your teen can make mistakes and still be understood.

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