In our household, we have a newly crowned teenager. Before you applaud my extraordinary accomplishment, let’s talk about this further. Simon has gone from 100% dependent to 80% independent. As a parent, this is both relieving and stressful. I love seeing him become his own person, but I fear all of the mistakes I have made being made by him. As a parent, we want our kids to be safe and wrapped in bubble wrap their whole life. This practice is not a reality, and coming to grips with this reality is super tough. We will explore this topic further with relevant research and real-world accounts.
First, this phase of adolescents is not easy for anyone. The kiddo is going through so many mental and chemical changes that, in most cases, they do not know which way is up. I, as the parent, want to control or orchestrate every step of this process. Simon wants to do the same. This is where the struggle becomes a battle. Healthy Children website states, “Adolescence is the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. It includes some big changes physically, and to the way a young person relates to the world.” This world includes their family. In my opinion, the “I want to be free” aspect is the toughest. I want to be a part of everything he does, but he wants to be left alone.
Contemporary PEDS Journal wrote in July 2021, “Parents can be perplexed and worried about the behavior of their adolescent children. Real risks exacerbate the worries as adolescents venture into real-world demands.” As I look back over the things I did and somehow survived, I worry about this “behavior” aspect the most. I did some stupid things as a kid and rebelled against those who tried to help the most. As I reflect now, I can see some had great intentions. When I was told I would not or could not do something, I did it. I have counselors in high school who thought and voiced my inability to achieve anything more than jail time. I ended up with a Doctorate in Education and Leadership (EdD). I also had loved ones who tried to keep me safe, and I ended up making bad decisions. The key here is how they dealt with me. They did not say, “Told you so,” or boast. They listened and supported me. These individuals are who I hold most dear to this day.
The student who is going through this change is also dealing with a lot. In this time of uncertainty, they struggle with acceptance, balance, stress, and changes in their body. On top of this, they are trying not to make their family mad. The last one may not appear as a priority, but they want to keep the peace. Mental health is a genuine concern for us as parents. CDC writes, “Adolescence is a time for young people to have a healthy start in life. The number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing. Building strong bonds and connecting to youth can protect their mental health. Schools and parents can create these protective relationships with students and help them grow into healthy adulthood.” What does this look like, and what can we do as parents?
First, we are not all experts, and we are ALL still learning. Most experts say to listen to your kiddo from what I have read. As adults, we have mortgages, doctor bills, insurance payments, bills, taxes, and everything else adulting throws at us on the day-to-day grind. These things can make your kiddo’s issue appear less then. It is crucial to understand that their struggles are as big as ours. Who likes them or do not like them, where they fit or do not fit, teachers making them work too hard parents who give too many chores, and so many other things. These items are oversized and cause stress for them. When Simon talks to me, I try to listen, but I also fail to see him eye to eye. This is where I will work to improve my practice.
An article written for Parenting and Family by Jill Suttie identifies the risks of being a teen and gives good advice for keeping them safe. She interviews the author of Born to Be Wild, Dr. Shatkin. He writes that parents “Think their primary job is to remind teens over and over that they’re not invincible and to explain to them what terrible things can happen to them if they engage in risk.” He says that teens know they are not invisible; this is where their stress lies. They are full of fear and want to be included and accepted. He goes into how the brain works and how hormones are the attacking forces. I do remember the stress when I would try something, and it would fail. I did not worry about the failure; I worried about others’ thoughts. Was it cool, or was I just an idiot? Would I ever recover from this social detriment? This was the stress I dealt with, but I did not have to battle the social media giants.
Social media has amplified everything we thought we dealt with when we were their age. If I was recorded when I failed, I knew. Cameras were not small. Today, the recordings and uploads are happening ALL of the time! Everything is documented.
We as parents need to listen and validate our kid’s concerns and struggles. This is the most powerful tool we have. I strongly believe in counseling for ourselves and our kids. There are professionals available to help either in person or virtually. Seek help and support our most valuable resources, our children.
Your partner in education and parenting,
Douglas Greek EdD