Understanding teenage behavior is a lot like trying to understand Sudoku without the instructions. There are simply too many blank spaces that you don’t know how to fill. Teenagers, for all of their witty charm and endearing attempts at adulthood, are still on many level just children in big bodies. They are trying to cope with an entire world of choices, frustration, and frightening prospects all while enjoying what they have been told are the best years of their life. Whoever told them that forgot about acne, first dates, mood swings, and social pressure.
During the years between the age of 12 and 18, the body and mind go through more changes than could possibly be listed. Every experience is amplified by hormones and “split” thought. Teenagers often split their thoughts because they are, in the most simplistic explanation, half child and half grown up. This is the phenomenon that starts with a rational and reasonable thought process that becomes interrupted by frustration. Ration and reason take a hike and suddenly your teenager sounds like they have returned to kindergarten as they ramble on about the subject in their suddenly juvenile fashion. Many experts relate it to having a tired brain. Teens spend a lot of time trying to grow up. When they hit a road block, their minds become literally fatigued of trying so hard and thus they resort to juvenile thought patterns because it is easier. It’s a frustrating scenario for all involved.
In a world filled with social pressure and a societal need for youthful hotties to strut their stuff out in the world, acne can be one of the most detrimental teenage syndromes that exist. Many adults look at a teen with acne with great compassion, but we also know that it is just part of the deal. A teen looks at acne much like a social death sentence. It is very difficult to face the world with zits. Other kids are relentless and it actually creates a social standing that may not necessarily apply. Chronic break outs can often categorize kids straight into the “loser” zone as other teens ostracize severe acne as though it was leprosy. Kids with acne will often deny themselves activities that they love because they are so devastated by their facial condition. It’s important for parents to understand that acne is not just a passing phase that they will outgrow but a seriously detrimental problem that can hinder their entire teenage experience. It can cause self esteem issues, loss of social interest, and ironically adolescent obesity. Many teens with moderate to severe acne that choose to stop engaging in activities eventually start spending their free time in front of a video game, computer, or TV and comfort themselves with yummy food. Parents who intervene with medication and trips to the dermatologist are doing their child a huge favor for their self image.
Of course, we can’t forget to mention the really big pressures. Sex, drugs, smoking, drinking, and physical stunts that put your child in danger are all just part of the daily existence of a teen. Kids face all kinds of issues, and they respond to them differently depending on how they relate to the world. Kids who need to fit in regardless of their own beliefs are more likely to put their health and wellbeing in harm’s way for three minutes of popularity. Those with a strong sense of self are less likely to do what other kids pressure them to do, but are also less likely to engage in what you pressure them to do.
There is an escalated level of cruelty in today’s high schools. Kids have found ways to literally rip the lives of their classmates apart with what appears to be joy. In most cases, this joy is really just a feeling of power. Kids who exhibit cruelty toward other kids are covering their own panic about not feeling like they have any kind of power in their own life. Additionally, high school has become a dog eat dog playground. If you don’t want to be eaten, then you better be one who eats those who are weaker than you. We all want to think that we have good kids. And really, we do. But if you are getting reports about your child’s bullying behavior, it’s time to step up and interfere. If we are understanding teenage behavior, then we are also understanding that our kids are far from perfect and do things that we don’t like. You can pretty much be guaranteed that your child will either be bullied or be a bully for at least one year out of their high school career. Accepting this fact makes it easier to deal with their issues head on so that you can help limit the rate of incidents that occur.
School is certainly not the only place that teens tend to act up and trade in their charming primary school personalities. Home is where the heart is. This also means home is where the war front is. There is a chronic struggle between parent and child from the day children come into this world. They want to break away from you. They love you, need you, and want you to be their number one fan, but they also want you to go away and let them be their own person. From their first steps to their first apartment, they are trying to become autonomous. This is not an easy process, nor is it one that is free from fear and general angst. After all, you are their parent, which makes you the center of their world even when it doesn’t seem like you exist to them. Some kids go through a harder period of separating themselves and finding their autonomy than others. But they need to have their own thoughts, their own feelings about issues, and the right to disagree. This doesn’t mean they have the right to be disrespectful, but teaching them now that disagreeing doesn’t have to be a negative hindrance is a life long gift they will use over and over again. Cutting daily battles down to relatively smooth communication techniques requires a significant amount of parental effort but pays ten fold in dividends of growth and peace.
While it can be hard to get the flow of conversation started with your teen, it’s not always as hard as we think it will be. Kids want to be respected for their thoughts, and asking them to share their thoughts is a good way to get them into topics that frighten both of you. Sex, drugs, drinking, and violence can all be thoroughly discussed usually just by asking them their opinion of specific situations or elaborating on headline news stories with their perspective. The very first step to understanding teenage behavior is talking with genuine interest to your own teenager.