Put on the Oxygen Mask

Surviving the teen years

There are few situations in life which are more difficult to cope with than the adolescent son or daughter during their attempts to liberate themselves.” ~Anna Freud

Adolescents feel life quite intensely, but are mostly ill-equipped to reflect on it. They experience life in a raw way that’s a weird mixture of excitement, confusion, self-doubt, and emotional upheavals. Every slight, insult, and criticism feels huge to them, because they haven’t yet developed the ability to process emotions fully, see the big picture, or put things into perspective. These skills come later in life when their brains are fully developed.

It is important to remember that the goal of adolescence is to achieve independence. So it’s common to see teens pull away from parents, especially the one with whom they are closest. Teens will also assert themselves in unexpected ways, and while butting heads may be normal, it is also exhausting. They may be rebellious one day, loving and child-like the next. There is a very good reason why these years are often referred to as the “turbulent teen years.”

I often see a disconnect between what parents think a teen should be feeling and how a teen actually feels. Parents may think they have given their child the very best life and that may be true, but how does their teenager perceive it?

Most of us have long forgotten what it’s like to live the inner life of a teenager (crushing self-doubt, desperate to be accepted, searching for identity). Many teens have shared with me that high school is supposed to be the best time of their life—a time when lifetime friends are made—and that is a lot of pressure. But as adults, we know that high school, for many of us, was not the best time of our lives. In fact, how many adults are still close with high school friends or even remember more than one?

Of course parents want to help their children navigate through these turbulent years, but they often feel helpless. I know. I have two teenagers. At times I am on the same roller coaster ride as my teen. If it were not for the support and reassurance of friends, parents, and my own therapist, I could not do it.

I have learned the absolute necessity of having my own support system and my own life. Many mornings I am relieved to go to work, if only for a while, just to leave the turbulence at home. I’m sure my teen feels the same way. I think it’s important for all parents to get “real” about parenting teenagers. It’s hard. They struggle. We struggle.

The saying “it takes a village” really does apply, especially if you or your teen are struggling. Please know you are not alone. Reach out for support for your teen, for yourself and particularly for your marriage because fighting over the best way to parent a child or teen is all too common and can cause even more friction in the home.

Advice for Parents:

  • Help your child to find their tribe. A tribe is a group of peers who have similar interests. This can be a group in school or out of school. I suggest a teen have multiple groups where they feel connected and accepted. This can be in real life and on the internet. It’s a good idea to monitor internet activity when a child is young, as this is the best time to have influence and guide them in good internet decision making. Many teens who experience loneliness go to the internet to seek connection. It’s important they find the right kind of support online.
  • Give space and stay connected. Find times to be in their presence without being intrusive. This is not the time to pry into their personal lives. They don’t want you to and will most likely make it very clear to you.
  • Focus on the joyful moments. They will be there. In the long run, you will likely not remember most of the negative (at least not on an emotional level).
  • Stay connected with your support system.
  • Put on your oxygen mask – and breathe!

Before you know it, you’ll be missing these years as they step out into the world on their own.

Michelle Kelley
About Michelle Kelley 14 Articles
Michelle Kelley, LCSW, is a licensed counselor and the owner of Warrenton Women’s Counseling Center - specializing in helping girls and women to develop healthy relationships and strong emotional lives. For more information call 540-316-6362 or visit www.WarrentonWomensCounselingCenter.com.

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