How do you know when your child becomes a teen? When Sally became a teenager, her mother thought Sally had become a different person. She dressed differently, had different friends, became a rock fan, and started playing the guitar. Underneath, she was still Sally, but now she had taken on a new role: Sally “the rocker.” A friend asked Sally’s mother, “When Sally was little, was she interested in superheroes? Did she ask you to sew a ‘W’ on her leotard so she could pretend to be Wonder Woman? Did you think it was cute?” Mom smiled as she remembered how cute she thought Sally was at this stage of her life.
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Her friend continued, “Could you think of her that way now? Imagine that she’s put on the suit of a rocker. That’s what is going on; she’s trying on an identity, but the identity is not who Sally really is.”
It may help to remember how different your personality is now from the way you were as a teen. Even though living with your adolescent child may seem to last forever, adolescence is just a brief part of the growing process. It is by no means the final destination.
Parents often see the dream teen as the “good kid.” You may not have thought about this, but these teens may have sold out to become pleasers and approval junkies. Their parents use them as the standard and say to siblings, “Why can’t you be more like your brother or sister? At least I have one that doesn’t give me any trouble.” The “good kid” may feel significant only if he or she is getting this kind of praise.
Many teens like this fall apart when they make their first big mistake. Some cannot handle the competition when they get to college and discover they are not the only special student. Unable to handle this pressure, some even commit suicide because they don’t think they can stay on top. Others start their individuation very late, sometimes wasting their freshman year in college partying instead of studying now that they are not feeling pressured by their parents.
What all teens are trying to figure out is, “Who am I, and am I good enough?” That journey can look very different from the outside, depending on the teen. Don’t be fooled by appearances. It’s pretty tough to go through adolescence without some insecurity. Keep in mind that if you fantasize about having a dream teen, that kid might be struggling with issues of perfectionism.
Most dramatic changes with your kids are accompanied by a feeling response from you. Think how excited you were when your kids were potty trained. Remember how you felt when your kid said “NO” to everything you asked. Flash back to your feelings when your kids started school or had their first overnight at a friend’s house. Now think about some of the feelings you’ve had as your kids have evolved into adolescence. Can you match the shock and/or stress experienced by the following parents?
Herb recalled the day he inadvertently discovered his eleven-year-old daughter, Kim, had sent 210 text messages in less than a day to a boy in her class. Most of the texts referred to how much they liked each other and that they wanted to kiss each other. Herb’s other daughter, fifteen-year-old Macy, had no interest in boys or even texting, so it took him by surprise to realize that his eleven-year-old daughter had become a teen.
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Maxine took her stepson shopping for a new winter jacket. When the sales clerk put the jacket in a shopping bag, her stepson walked away and started heading out of the store, leaving the bag on the counter. Maxine grabbed the bag, irritated that her stepson was acting so unappreciative. When she met him at the car, she asked him what was going on.
He said, “I wasn’t going to have anyone see me carrying a shopping bag through the mall. That’s lame.”
Maxine didn’t know whether she wanted to hug him or shoot him 🙂
Sandi remembered the shock she felt when her nephew, who never noticed if his socks matched or his hair was combed, showed up in pants hanging below his waist, tennis shoes without laces, and a head full of mousse. He had mastered the latest “teen” look.
Pete told his friend, “I don’t know what’s going on with my thirteen-year-old son, Trevor. One minute he’s my best friend and the next he’s yelling at me and treating me like the enemy. I’m starting to come down hard on him so he doesn’t think he can get away with that lousy behavior. I can’t remember when I’ve felt so angry.”
Pete’s friend couldn’t help laughing. “Pete,” he said, “welcome to the world of teenagers. You’ve been anointed.”