At 15, I knew everything. At 16, I could do anything. In my eyes, my parents grew dumber every year I grew smarter. What could they know? Their adolescence was a distant, faded memory—like worn out jeans thrown away long ago. I could no more picture them as pimply peers than I could imagine letting them know my innermost thoughts.
Truth be told, I was no model teenager. I was an indifferent student who preferred to read long depressing Russian novels than go to school. (Now the truth is out! I was a high school truancy officer’s nightmare!). Ancient black and white photos show an angry sullen teen, with long hair and torn jeans. When I look at those photos through my parent’s eyes, how they must have worried.
My father used to love to say— “I can’t wait until you have kids and feel my pain!”. Oh—how I hated when he said that. But like many things that parents say to their kids—he was so right!
Adolescence is a developmental period marked by continual instability and volcanic upheaval. Level headed 12-year-olds become impulsive, sullen 13-year-olds. One minute teenagers are mature responsible youngsters—the next minute they are like a pack of giggly 6-year olds.
Biology is the main culprit here. The biological alarm clock of early adolescence wakes everyone up. Each developmental period has its own unique goals. The tasks of adolescence are: 1) to separate from parents; 2) to develop a unique sense of self; 3) to learn and exercise judgment; 4) to develop close relationships with others, and: 5) to make it to adulthood.
The last one is no joke. Every year, particularly around graduation, a number of kids die in auto accidents. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of kids do make it into adulthood—bodies and minds intact. But Mom’s and Dad’s worry. Teens and cars turned my hair gray.
Adolescence strains the parent-child relationship. Fathers and mothers mourn their loss of control and authority. Ah—life was so much easier when you could simply pick them up and put them in their room.
Unfortunately, there is no list of “how to’s” that will still the rough waters of the teen years. They are simply stormy seas that must be navigated through rough weather.
Here are some important points to remember:
- Teens still need adult authority and limits—even if it is only to rebel against. Don’t try to be “best friends” with your youngster. Your job is to set limits. Their job is to test those limits. Remember their brains are not fully developed.
- Keep the doors of communication open, even when your teen keeps theirs shut. Family meals are very important. Insist on sitting down as a family for a meal as often as you can. Put everyone’s smartphone in a box.
- Parents need to be there when their kids fall flat on their faces, even when their teens tell them to get lost. It’s like being “on call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But when that pager goes off, you better be there.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Keep your eyes on the prize—grades are not as important as you imagine. It’s more important for kids to get to the other end of their teenage years with their self-esteem, dignity, and family values intact.
It’s true. Parents grow up with their children. Teens make the bumpy passage from childhood to adulthood. Parents hold onto their seats with white knuckles showing. When I reflect on my adolescence, I needed my parents to fight with me, to demand more from me, to insist that I come home at a reasonable hour, and the pull back on the reins when I didn’t.