Terrible Teens!


The entire period of adolescence can be very stressful for parents. Probably early adolescence is the most disturbing because it’s so difficult to understand why so many things have changed. Try to understand it’s just as disturbing for the youngster going through it.

Later on, when dating and part-time jobs take up a lot of attention, it’s easier to see how tensions are related to these new activities. But the early ado¬lescence period, with its social cliques, its exaggeration of so many traits like narcissism and isolation, and its abrupt chal¬lenge of almost all the previously established standards, is probably the hardest on parents.

It’s hard to realize that this grubby boy who suddenly doesn’t let you know where he’s going, doesn’t seem to be able to say a kind word to anyone in his family, doesn’t even like the same old foods, is an adolescent. “He isn’t showing any interest in girls, he isn’t taking any pride in his appearance—where’s the adolescence?” ask the parents who think of adolescence mostly in terms of dating and becoming “grown-up.”

Parents look at their daughters who seem to have lost most of their feminine little-girl ways and realise that these gruff youngsters are now physically in puberty. They despair, convinced that somehow something horrible must be wrong because she never was a tom-boy before and this means that they didn’t rear her properly or else she wouldn’t be reacting so strangely to her pubescence.

Remembering that all these bits of behavior are related to adolescent status and a need to get accustomed to being different will help you be more understanding and patient. For example, he pulls away from closeness inside his family, to try to strengthen his need to be independent.

Your young teenager has to put a lot of distance between himself and you, otherwise his old habits might take over and he’d be back in the nest. So he backs up his somewhat weak defenses against these desires and fears by being taciturn and indifferent to you, and gets busy thrusting himself out to identifications with people who are not relatives.

He chal¬lenges all the old rules for living because he needs to make sure that they are sensible for him as an “adult.” You can’t help at all by trying to remind him of how he has solved similar prob¬lems in the past or of his previously avowed values and stan¬dards. He now needs to go through almost all the previous situations and work them through in the light of his new iden¬tity. So it doesn’t help, for example, when he’s despondent be¬cause he hasn’t been picked for some school performance, for you to remind him that he “used not to care that much for things like that.” The big thing is that now he is trying out different values and re-exploring the old values and he needs to cope with disappointments in a new way; the old rationalisa¬tions need to be revised by him to fit his new circumstances. During this time he may give up some of his old hobbies and interests, but the chances are that once this turbu¬lent period has passed, he will return to them if they are genuinely satisfying and suitable to his grown-up role. You shouldn’t try to keep him tied to his old likes and dislikes.

Support your young teenager to explore new likes. The forces within them which are the result of his good childhood with you will ultimately come forth and help with these efforts to work through new challenges independently. If you are content that he grew up “straight,” you need not fear the temporary disturbances of his early adolescence. He isn’t going to change completely.

After a while, he’ll find out that most of his old values still make sense, even in the light of his new maturity. He isn’t likely to go off the deep end and become seriously “different” inwardly although his behavior may seem very strange at times. This behavior is only a short-term experiment in being different to see how things fit. Even¬tually, he’ll go back to most of the stable and basic ways of behaving.

He bands together with his peers because he’s des¬perately trying to comfort himself that his old peer relation¬ships haven’t changed just because he’s changed, and he gets an added measure of reassurance from being with peo¬ple who are going through the same changes. His group identifications also serve to keep him from getting emotionally entangled in his family. His different teenage badges—the haircuts, the lingo, the jackets, or pants—are all ways of proving to himself that he’s firmly linked to his friends and that, in the midst of terrifying change after change within him, some things stay the same!.

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