Can you remember when . . .?
Once I gave a workshop to a group of parents at a middle school in St. Louis. I thought it was going pretty well until one of the mothers accused me of "siding with the kids, rather than with the parents."
Actually, the attack was pretty vicious, and I soon had a whole group joining with my assailant. There were obviously some very distraught parents struggling with 13- and 14-year-olds.
I had been discussing developmental stages of the adolescent, and I had probably mentioned several times how difficult it was to be a teen. That was more than my vocal mother could stand.
"My son does nothing," she shouted at me. "I can’t even get him to empty the trash. I wish I had a life like that!"
Others, of course, had similar examples.
I let them all vent for a few minutes, then asked them to close their eyes and think back to when they were 14. I asked them to be open-minded and honest. The change in the room was dramatic. Even the loudest softened.
We forget, sometimes, how difficult it is to be a teen. Hormones rage, doubt and uncertainty rule, and relationships–especially with parents–are uneven at best. Adolescents rarely know who they are or where they are going. Confusion reigns.
My son, Todd, depicted life as a teenager very well in a paper he wrote for a class in Adolescent Development. Todd is getting his Masters in Education and has been working with teens for the last several years. To add to his credibility, Todd is not that far removed from adolescence himself. In fact, I suspect that some of the following excerpts from his paper are based on his own experiences:
1. "At the top of the stairs you listen intently for sounds of your parents in the kitchen. Not hearing the newspaper ruffle or utensils clinking against the side of a dish, you feel the coast is clear.
Upon entering the kitchen, you are horrified at the sight of your mother peering into the pantry. You quickly make yourself busy by grabbing the pop-tarts above the cabinet and study, with mock interest, the nutritional facts on the side of the box. Nonetheless, your mom still decides to say, ‘Good morning.’
You force a reply out of your mouth, emitting a sound that more closely resembles a bobcat dying a slow death than a morning salutation. Happily, your mother accepts your grunt without saying the infernal and most annoying clarifying term: ‘What?’
With your father’s arrival, you feel claustrophobic. He is wearing khaki shorts with navy socks pulled up to his knees. You make a mental note to never do that – ever!"
2. "At the end of the day, as you and your over-stuffed book bag make your way towards the car, you pause for a moment and stare at the students who run past you in
their track uniforms. They whoosh by in a confident column of elbows, knees and tacky colors. You had always been on the track team. You had thought you would be on the track team again this year–but your parents decided to play a cruel trick. Usually when you announce a team tryout, they stay on your case until you actually sign up. They remind you against your will, question you against your will, interrogate you against your will, and ensure that you get to the tryout against your will. But, this year they did not. You didn’t understand. I mean, you told them, just like always. But did they hound you? No! Did they pester you? No! DID THEY MAKE SURE YOU GOT TO THE TRYOUTS AND ON THE TEAM? NO! It was the cruelest trick. But, you have more time for homework now."
3. "When your parents come home and ask if you have done your homework, you shout down from your room that you have. You take some secret satisfaction in the lie. They insist that you do schoolwork during the two hours you have to yourself in the house. They always used to check to make sure, but they stopped. Though you always do your homework, there is something pleasing in the notion that you do not do it when they want you to. And you think you are fooling them. And this makes everyone happy–happy enough to endure each other."
Being the parent of a teen is challenging and difficult. But being a teen is even harder. The best I can advise is that parents take adolescence in stride by refusing to take snubs and affronts personally. Your teen needs you as much as ever. Stay involved in their lives, and try to remember when . . .
[Excerpts (1), (2) and (3) from A Day in the Life of Adolescence by Todd Trotta]
Rosilee Trotta, LCSW
Urban Youth & Family Specialist