Are You Anxious About Your Teenager?
We've all heard the stories; nice homes, good kids and then the awful happens. The teenager gets caught with drugs in the school parking lot, he is sassing his parents in public, she's cutting herself or the child next door hangs himself. Where in the world did this come from? She was a great student until she hit puberty; he was happy, athletic, and sociable until he started playing computer games all day. It seems as though they've withdrawn from sanity.
Remember the terrible two's? Ever wonder what that was all about? Well, when we are born, we are dependent upon our parents for everything and we're so busy growing that we don't have time to develop our own personality. Sure, we're cute, cuddly, colicky, fussy, grouchy, but not really our own person. The terrible two's is a way to start fixing that, but the only word we have in our vocabulary is "NO!"
That's known in the world of social development as separating and individuating. We have begun to realize that we're not our parents, but aren't quite sure who we are just yet.
Then come the three's when we return to being more amicable, and continue our journey of growth. Parents have their lovely kid again, who reads, does well in sports, and makes us proud.
And then it happens. Wham! Puberty, or something, seems to possess our kids and they lose their minds! But have they really? What has really happened is that the terrible two's have returned with a vengeance, and with a much bigger vocabulary. Wow. Our happy home is upside down. We have an angry, combative kid on our hands who rejects us, our religion, and everything we stand for. After all, they understand everything, including our religion, through our teachings, don't they, and if they are rejecting us to form their own identity, then they have to reject what we believe in.
I cannot tell you how many teens I have worked with who have harmed themselves in some way B poor grades, hanging with seedy friends, cutting themselves, or experimenting with drugs B which is just separating from the parents again, just like when they are two. They now realize that we are flawed, and perhaps asking them to "do what I say, not what I do." And since we are in the group called adults, they often have to reject all adults.
There is good news, however, but forcing them to comply will never work. Remember when they were toddlers and you had to let them stumble and fall in order to learn how to walk? You never let them fall too far or too hard, did you? Your job has been to teach a child how to cope in the world, to understand what it means to grow up and to work hard for what she wants. Your job now is to let your child learn more about the world without hurting himself more than is necessary.
Yes, it's going to hurt.
This doesn't mean to let him smoke pot in the basement while playing computer games. This means that if he wants to wear weird clothes, write funky music or poetry, let him, within reason.
But get him help if you see any of the following warning signs:
If your child becomes unusually moody, angry, or obstreperous or you notice changes in activity level, appetite, eating, grades, or socialization that last for more than a couple of weeks, be aware that she is possibly depressed or have some anxiety issues going on, and should see a professional. She may be depressed, or there may be other, more insidious mental health issues going on.
Think for a moment about the problems that may be lurking in your family. Are there addictions, Bipolar Disorder, depression in your family tree? While it's not contagious, it certainly can be learned, or hereditary. Your child may be in need of help. This help may come from her pediatrician (if she trusts her), a therapist, or even a psychiatrist. Someone with whom he can share the strange ideas he's having. If you attend church, and she trusts her youth pastor, let her share what she's feeling with him. But get her someone to talk to.
I know that adolescence may seem like an illness, but most of the time it's really just another normal developmental stage that is as painful for the child as the parents. She knows that she's not you, but has no clue what she believes in, or whom she trusts. The more you try to force your ideas on your teen, the more they are likely to fight back. Give her time. She will recover, and so will you. But don't hesitate to get your child the professional help he needs if you have the smallest inkling that she's in deeper than she should be.
Dr. Diana Walcutt