That day. Oh that day. The day you turned around and realized you had an adolescent. Not a baby, not a preschooler, not a middle years kid, but an actual adolescent. And you wonder if it should be terrifying or delightful or just a beautiful thing to take in. The truth?
It is all of those things.
And each one of them will land on you in the moments that you least expect it, taking your breath away and having you champion them forward in equal parts. Here is what makes adolescence such an interesting time.
First, your adolescent is “individuating.” They are seeking an emergence into their own selves whilst yearning to be swept up and held in your continued safe embrace. Becoming one’s own person is not an easy thing. It requires that you set some distance between yourself and your parent. So if your parent likes tennis, you decide to hate it. If your parent says one thing, you fervently espouse the other. And it has to be this way. Just as we should not make our infants wrong for crying, or our toddlers wrong for tantrumming, we cannot make our adolescents wrong for the shove away that comes with figuring out who they are.
The second thing is that the adolescent brain is fueled by all things novel and new. The reward circuits of the adolescent brain are super fired up. The upside of this is that the adolescent is in a period of want to soak up life. The downside? There are likely to be more risky behaviors like sex and the vulnerability that comes with that, drugs and alcohol, and other safety blunders, because thrill is emphasized while risk is minimized in the reward circuits driven brain. All of this is essential to a key purpose thought. And that is that the adolescent brain actually needs to be open to living big so that the adolescent will thoroughly explore self and passions and adventures and life.
Third on the list is that other people start to have considerable influence on your teen’s perspective. Where previously the sun rose and set on you as their guiding star, your adolescent is now awakening to what their peers have to offer on all things from politics to fashion to veganism. The wonderful part of this is that they are extending all that you taught them about relationship to the world around them. And it is the start of relationship providing for your teen a solid foundation for a positive sense of self. Much benefit can be reaped from healthy peer relationships at this age and stage. And, if there is a total disconnect from you then your adolescent’s risky behaviors can be heightened because you are not there to temper them.
Fourth up is that everything about the adolescent brain and experience is INTENSE. When they love they REALLY love. When they crash out they REALLY crash out. When they hate you they REALLY hate you. All of life is bigger. This can make for some amazingly joyous moments when the positive emotions get really big. And some super yuck moments with the yuck emotions get really big. The silver lining here is that it creates a keen energy and zest for life. And that is exactly what you want for your growing human to launch them beautifully into adulthood.
Fifth and finally, there is a mind-blowing extension of consciousness happening for your teen. As their cognitive abilities increase, there is a simultaneous increase in capacity to grasp the abstract. This has creativity coming alive. And it can also have some kids come into crisis moments as they grapple with big questions like the meaning of life, and their place in the world. Here, that which is ordinary becomes extraordinary. And that which overwhelms really overwhelms. All of this necessary so that your child will have a sense of fulfillment and contentment as they head off into adulthood.
So adolescence can feel like a big, beautiful mess.
And it is in a way. The brain is turning itself inside out to figure this all out, and the heart and soul of your child is racing to keep up. In this challenge lays the opportunity for growth. It is a perfect kind of mess. The sort that insanely fabulous things emerge from. Here are five things to keep in mind as a parent that will help you stay the course and have you seeing your adolescent through right to their most amazing adulthood.
Don’t take it personally.
This is not about you and how awful you are. As your adolescent shoves away, rages, or even embraces, understand it all from a place of being a safe witness. This means that you observe with softness and neutrality. You accept what is, knowing that it is a necessary trial for you and your child to eventually experience what will be.
Do not expect to retire any time soon.
Your adolescent needs you. As much as your infant, toddler and young child needed you. Show up for work even if you don’t end up working. I am home most evenings with my boys. Sometimes I am called on for deep and exploratory conversations, or to listen to upset about something that didn’t go their way. And other times I fill the role simply of feeding them and driving them. I would spend a thousand nights feeding and driving for one night of “working.” It is SO valuable and SO essential. Be available and present and mindful and around.
Do not out source what can be claimed by you.
This is a time to show up for your teen. What are you good at? What do you know about? How can you continue to be in the lead for your incredible, bright, growing, savvy teen? Do you cook? Do you hike the back country and find your way maps or not? Do you know about food or language or culture that your child doesn’t? Don’t outsource this to summer camps and other people. Put yourself in the lead position in these natural sorts of ways so your child has a way to continue to lean on you.
Be the source of both safe harbour and launching pad.
There are times when your job is going to be to encourage your adolescent to press onward. There are other times when your job is going to be to allow them to fall into your safe embrace. Know the difference. Be wise and intuitive and open to oscillating between these two roles.
Keep communication lines open.
When your teen shares something with you, cherish the confidence and trust they have placed in you. Watch your reactions. Really listen and hear them for who they are and what they are bringing you. Which does not mean you just stand idly by when a boundary needs reinforcing or a rule needs shoring up. And it does mean that as you go about that you do so with compassion, respect and a real gratitude for the trust they have placed in you.
Adolescence is not something to be feared. It is a gorgeous stage in development to be embraced. Have that be the lens that colors how you see your child. From this place of enjoyment you are then perfectly positioned to understand adolescence not as a time to survive but rather as a time in which to thrive. It’s an amazing journey, so buckle up and enjoy the ride. You’ve got this. You really do.