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Teenagers and personality: How parents can help maintain harmony

We all know that parenting teenagers can be a trial. Daddy’s little girl, or Mommy’s little boy has grown into an unfamiliar person. As hormones surge and body shapes change, so do hairstyles, clothes, and behavior. The outrageous rebel, surly loner, and moody dramatic artist appear and disappear with bewildering rapidity often times within the same day or even the same afternoon. But by the mid-teen years adolescents seem to settle more comfortably into themselves, and begin to express their true personality. According to Enneagram (E-model) theory our personality is most flagrant between the ages of 15 and 25 years.

Mom and Teens
Descriptions of personality

The E-model descriptions of personality are rapidly gaining popularity as an accurate tool for understanding ourselves. The model describes with amazing accuracy the motivations behind our behaviors. Different personalities affect our family dynamics. This dynamic is strongly evident as we try to find a new way of relating to our teen, in particular how to give them some independence, while reassuring them that we are around to support them. Where are the boundaries in good parenting of older teens?
Below are thumbnail sketches of the E-model personality types our teenagers have become, and some advice on how to help them. Since each of us is more complicated than a single definition, on the E-model each type is connected to two others. The traits of these personalities are also evident to us.

The E-personality types
The Moralizer: Conscientious, preoccupied with correcting error, inflexible, judgmental. Linked to the dreamer and the entertainer.

Parents: Encourage moralizers not to be so hard on themselves. Remind them to forgo the 110 percent effort; 100 percent is good enough. Help them develop self-esteem by showing them that error is not catastrophic. Urge them to have fun.

The Helper: Devoted, empathetic, needs approval, and can be manipulative. Linked to the dreamer and the protector.

Parents: Assist helpers to build boundaries for themselves. They are inclined to give their very selves away to friends and projects and neglect their own emotional needs. These teens are in danger of being pressured into destructive behavior.

The Organizer: High achiever, efficient, competitive, and obsessed with image. Linked to the questioner and the peacekeeper.

Parents: Help organizers focus on feelings. Don’t ask: What did you do at school, but rather: How do you feel about school today? Encourage them to articulate intimate feelings. Teach then that it’s okay to fail, life goes on.

The Dreamer: Creative, emotionally charged, melancholic, attracted to the unavailable. Linked to the helper and the moralizer.

Parents: Try to get dreamers to see the value in ordinary events of every day life, and not to only value the dramatic highs and lows. This personality struggles with feelings of inadequacy and authenticity. Reassure them of their value to you, no matter how they act out.

The Observer: Privacy is paramount, rational, detached. Linked to the protector and the entertainer.

Parents: Try to include your observer in all social interactions. Often they want to join the group but lack the social skills to know how. Give them some space and time alone, but don’t be discouraged by their withdrawal. Keep them engaged even if it feels thankless to do so.

The Questioner: Prone to doubt, scans for danger, loyal, questioning, excellent trouble shooter. Linked to the organizer and the peacekeeper.

Parents: Realize questioners seek safety by expressing their doubts and fears. Answer their questioners to allay their fears, but also help them learn about reality checks. They may act out pronounced anti-authoritarian behavior. This is their way of going against their fear. Let them know you care when they endanger themselves, and that there are other ways to find out where the safety net is.

The Entertainer: Mercurial, hard to pin own, charm to disarm, backs away from commitment. Linked to the observer and the moralizer. Parents: Try to help entertainers keep their feet on the ground. They are ideas people who take off like helium balloons. Get them grounded. Encourage them to play sport or undertake other body-based activities to help them stay in the present. Some teens with this personality have trouble concentrating in the way our classrooms are structured. Get them help with this.

The Protector: Take-charge, protective of turf and family, combative, likes control. Linked to the observer and the helper.

Parents: Give protectors a safe place where they can be vulnerable and encourage them to stay there as much as possible. Hold your ground when they push up against you. They are confronting you to see if you are a solid person or a wimp. Their anger and force can be uncomfortable for you, but don’t back down or turn away from them, even in the face of their most excessive behavior,

The Peacekeeper: Calm, seeks consensus, takes on others’ positions at the expense of their own agenda, obstinate and stubborn. Linked to the questioner and the organizer.

Parents: Help them find their position and stick with it. Remind them when they fall asleep to themselves. Give them responsibility that includes consequences for non-deliverance. Enforce those consequences. Time management and procrastination are major issue for this personality. Help them with a study/skills program.

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