It’s hard to become a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult human. It’s really, very hard. No time is more indicative of this struggle than the teenage years, where we’re suddenly grappling with the shift from being a fun-loving, care-free kid to a young adult from whom many things are expected but to whom little responsibility or freedom is bestowed. It can be confusing at times, maddening at others...and that’s just the perspective of the teen! For the parents, family members, and community members involved in helping to guide this person, it can feel at times like dealing with a dangerous, wild animal. The use of extreme emotions to get what they believe they deserve combined with the, sometimes, complete absence of reason or acceptable understanding of all factors at play can leave caregivers feeling helpless, powerless, and out of control.
There is good news here, and it simply requires a bit of a perspective shift. The idea is that it is actually the job of adults to teach young people that their behaviors and choices impact others around them. Whether you understand this from a spiritual, philosophical, or practical perspective, the idea becomes evident as we mature. Our actions affect others and theirs us, whether we like it or not. Unfortunately, this understanding is not yet fully developed in the teenage years. The difficulty of the stage of adolescence is that the most important task becomes self-exploration and identity development. There’s just not enough energy for teens to focus on themselves and others. So, the teenager takes priority and others suffer. Rather than viewing them as selfish, oppositional, or lazy, the more helpful perspective is to believe that, at this stage of development, this is actually their job and they should not be doing anything differently.
To balance this out, it is our job as adults to regularly point, non-judgmentally, to the signs that exist which indicate the consequences (both positive and negative) that result from a course of action. For example, if a young person breaks up with their boy or girlfriend and experiences backlash from their social group, ask them questions about what happened. What led them to want to break up? How did others respond? Do they feel it was fair or unfair? Avoid providing answers. Be ready to point out blind spots without insisting that they see or accept them as true. This will give your teen the ability to look at their choice and consider its connection to other forces in their world. This open exploration of what happened can help guide them to come to their own, well-informed conclusion, without raising the natural defensiveness common at this age (more on this next time). The takeaway here is: the more dots you can help your teen connect, the greater understanding they will develop regarding their impact on others.
Of course, every relationship between parent and teen is different and you might not feel able to enter into this kind of dialogue. Stay tuned for next week’s blog, which will discuss improving the relationship by setting firm boundaries from a place of compassion.