Teenagers. Few words generate such a collective knowing sigh.
Whether you're a future, present or past parent of a teen- you can understand the sentiment. A time in life when freedom and limitation fight for position. A time when self-reliance and mooching don't seem to notice their own contradictions. And the hormones... yes, the hormones.
As part of my practice, I work a great deal with teens. From this experience, I've gathered several conclusions and tips. I'd like to share a few with you. In no particular order:
The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Teen.... Part 1 (Part II is here)!
I find that what is most helpful for parents, is to recall the history of us as a people. I'm not talking about "the good ol' days". I mean human history. Since the dawn of humanity, teens have ruled. Depending on the era, thirty was considered "grandparent age" and anything beyond that qualified you for impending death. Not only were teens the parents; they were the warriors, the leaders, the hunters, the foragers. In other words, nature made sure that teens were (above all else)- hormonal, aggressive and passionate. It made sense that with the peak of fertility (and likely parenthood) teens would also be fiercely independent, strong-willed, and full of hubris. This ensured our survival as a species.
Fast-forward to our present day. Not only are teens NOT in charge, they are still living under the rule of parents. Not only are they NOT the warriors, they aren't even the drivers (for a while). Not only are they NOT the parents, they are told they ought not to be having sex at all. There is nothing to hunt and gather, there are no fires to stoke, there are no civilizations to pillage or protect. There are simply endless hours of school, malls, and (of course) sleeping. At a time when they are the most virile and agitated, they are told to do precisely the opposite: "sit still. take notes. be obedient. do what I say."
Now I for one am thankful that the average life expectancy is longer. I am thankful that adolescents no longer call the shots and I can expect to live peacefully to a ripe old age. I am also thankful that we encourage our teens to explore their own identities during their teen years. We give them a break from the stresses of adulthood for a little longer. We encourage parenthood to start only after the hubris of youth has died down- and I think that's good for society and for individual development.
But you can see how this is a recipe for discontent, right? You can see how adolescent angst would rear its ugly head. So what's a parent to do when they have a caveman teenager in gentler, calmer times?
I'm so glad you asked! I have ideas! :)
Point 1: Give your teen a purpose.
Remember, teens were built to be the movers and shakers of society. They were made to create (and destroy) civilizations. Their energy has been an asset to human history... until now. So its up to you as the parent, to help that energy finds its own use. In other words: wear them out!
For some teens this will be an after school job. For others, it's extra curricular programs. For still others, its pitching in more with the running of the household. Each situation is unique to your teen and family. But what is universally true is that they need purpose (just like we do).
It is my belief that human energy cannot be created or destroyed. It is simply re-routed. I believe a great deal of turmoil in the home is due to misplaced teen energy. If a teen has no purpose, no meaning to their existence (at a time when nature made sure they would crave it), what is s/he to do with that useless feeling? Get angry? Mopey? Agitated? Depressed? Yup, and a whole lot more. So put that energy to work somewhere meaningful, and drain the conflict out of your home!
I counsel teens, sometimes for long periods of time. You know what happens every year (like clockwork)? I lose clients around the time school lets out for the summer. It's a typical ebb and flow of my industry. Family vacations have some to do with it, and unpredictable schedules. But it also has to do with the fact that parents and teens start telling me "everything is fine", we're doing great!
Guess what happens every September? My office is flooded with phone calls of frantic teens and their parents, reporting that the remainder of the summer was a disaster. The honeymoon period of catching up on their sleep is quickly replaced by the melancholy of boredom. So with summer just starting, now is the time to preemptively help you and your teen, by finding a purpose for them and their time. It's good for you both!
... check back later... next time I'll talk about what one single thing may be to blame for teen attitude, obesity, ADHD and a host of other medical issues we see in teens today....
ETA- Part II can be read here.
Hoping your summer is purposeful,