The teenage years are a time of making some of the best memories of your life as well as dealing with some of the biggest challenges of your life. My teenage years seemed to be mostly the latter and there’s no sum of money you could give me to go back and relive them. I made a lot of bad choices when I was a teenager, some of which still haunt me at the age of forty. Such a time of self-consciousness, awkwardness, climbing the social ladder, dealing with cliques, and never feeling like you fit in anywhere. Is it the same for everyone? Surely not. But, I know for most people, the teenage years are a struggle.
Now I have a teenager of my own, and I find myself reliving all the nightmarish aspects of those years all over again, this time through her eyes. Some things have changed a lot since I was her age, and other things, not at all. The cliques are still alive and well. The petty girl fights among “friends”, the awkwardness, the self-consciousness…all still there. The only problem is, now I have to watch her navigate it all and there’s not much I can do to help her besides remind her that I can at least commiserate with what she’s going through.
The big difference between back in the day and now is the existence of social media. These kids’ lives are put on display for all the world to see, judge, evaluate, criticize, praise, etc. They are so vulnerable and open to others’ comments and approval, or lack thereof in many cases. Cyberbullying is so prevalent now and is definitely one thing we never had to deal with as kids. As a mom who monitors her child’s social media accounts, I have a front row view into how other kids treat mine in the virtual world. Sometimes, it’s not pretty.
Growing up and morphing from a child into an adult is so excruciatingly painful. I remember my hardest year being when I was eighteen years old. So badly did I want my freedom, despite being terrified to break away and be on my own. All the while I was mourning the official end of my childhood. The pain was palpable, and I expressed it as anger towards those closest to me. Perhaps tearing myself away from them was the only way I felt I could finally get away even though I wanted nothing more than for them to hold me closer. My heart hurts thinking that my daughter might go through the same trial one day.
There’s so much pressure on the shoulders of teens. Many go to school full-time, and have a part-time job, and homework, and extracurricular activities, and a social life, etc. It would be too much for even the most energetic adult to handle, let alone for a child, regardless of the fact that they may already have an adult-sized body. And consider the fact that teenagers don’t have a choice about much of what they have to do. They have to go to school, it’s the law. If they want a car or to help pay for gas and insurance, they have to have a part-time job. Playing sports, or being in school clubs, all these things look great on college applications, and most teens are college-bound, or at least hope to be. Top it all off with the desire for a genuine and active social life. A teen’s desperate need for approval often trumps all the rest. It’s no wonder so many teenagers struggle through these formative years.
Perhaps the most painful part of watching your child grow into their teenage years is the angst and inner turmoil that seems to consume them. Knowing your child will be his or her own worst enemy for a certain period of his or her life is so painful to witness, only because you’ve gone through this time period yourself. I can think back and remember how angry I was over absolutely nothing. I couldn’t tell you why I was so mad. Maybe because of all the aforementioned activities weighing me down, but mostly, it’s just part of the metamorphosis from sweet-natured child to independent, free-thinking adult.
Comforting teens is not always easy either. They’re prickly and distant and don’t want Mommy’s kisses or Daddy’s hugs anymore. They feel they need to jump their own hurdles, but as their parent, you know you can ease their pain even just a little if only they’d let you. So tempting is it to want to become their friend during this rocky period, but so crucial it is to be steadfast as the main authority figure in their life. It’s a fine balance to keep them on the straight and narrow while remaining a tender respite for them to retreat to in times of turmoil.
Some teens go too far into angst territory and rebel. Most teens rebel in some ways, usually physically by piercing their ears a second time or dying their hair an unnatural hue, but others go a much more dangerous path. If your teen falls into drugs, alcohol, sex, bullying, or crime, prepare for your heart to be broken. You must have a strict policy on these things and do something drastic the first time you realize your child is engaging in these activities. I always tell my teen that if I ever catch her doing any of several of the above, the police will be contacted. Harsh, I know, but I love her too much to let her ruin her own life.
My daughter is currently only thirteen-years-old. We haven’t even broached the time of boyfriends, driving, or many other older teen issues. I shudder to think of what’s coming up ahead. It’s hurts to see your child struggle regardless of his or her age, but when he or she is a teenager, it hurts just a little bit more for some reason. Maybe because it wasn’t so long ago that you were in those shoes yourself.