When you first start your journey into parenthood, all anyone ever tells you about is how darn cute they are, and the horror stories of babies who cry endlessly through the night leaving you completely sleepless. That is what it was like for me anyway.
Nobody tells you about how teenagers are so freakin complicated. (Or maybe they do, and I just didn’t listen) Maybe nobody talks about it because they don’t want to scare you into vowing never to have kids. Or maybe it’s because keeping tiny humans alive is HARD and it seems like there is plenty of time to worry about the teenage years in the future. I have a secret for you… although it seems like there is plenty of time… There isn’t. Time flies! All of a sudden, you have a teenager!
I know I am not only speaking for myself when I say that my teen(s) go through some pretty off the wall emotions. Heck, don’t we all? I know I experience some pretty damn off the wall emotions – sometimes in response to their emotions. And sometimes all within a matter of minutes or hours. I’ve also heard remarks suggesting that teenagers have nothing to be upset about, and they “have it so easy” because “they’re just teenagers”
I think we tend to forget about a lot of things when it comes to teenagers. Do you remember being a teenager? I do, and it wasn’t fun back then. (Most of the time anyway) I can imagine it hasn’t gotten any easier. I know I sometimes forget just how hard it can be for them.
Their Frontal Lobes Are Still Developing
As teens, their frontal lobes are still developing, or just starting to develop. What does this even mean?
In short, this means that their brains are still developing. More specifically, the section of their brain that process’ rational thoughts is still developing. When pre-teens & teens start to hit puberty, we all know (assumingly) that this also means their hormones are going nutso. Hormones also relate directly to emotions, and the emotional part of the brain is what teens do their thinking with. The connections between the emotional and rational parts of their brains won’t fully be developed (on average) until they’re 25.
So when my 14 year old boy is screaming at his endless Fortnite game and pounding on his desk, this means that he is not rationalizing the fact that there is a good chance he might break his desk. (Seriously, that thing takes a lot of abuse!) If he breaks his desk, and other things break as a result, not only will I be upset – he will be too. What if his desk breaks, and his monitor falls to the floor shattering it? Nope he’s not thinking about any of this. All he is thinking about is how pissed off he is at whoever he is playing against in Fortnite.
This also means that when my 15 year old daughter tells me that her life is “literally falling apart” she legitimately feels that way. I know it isn’t, and that in time all of these feelings will pass but to her it doesn’t feel that way. She is overloaded with emotions, and doesn’t know how to rationally process them.
Just Because They are Teens, it Doesn’t Mean Their Experiences Aren’t “Real Life Experiences”
I know I used the Fortnite example. LOL. Let me tell you… The. Struggle. Is. Real when it comes to Fortnite. BUT, and this is a huge but, their lives aren’t all video games and stress free.
Do you know how much pressure these teens have on them? I will tell you, it’s a lot! Trying to get good grades in school is a lot of pressure as it is. These kids have a ton of homework. I know I had a lot, but goodness gracious they have A LOT. On top of homework they have standardized testing, finals, and college prep.There is pressure to fit in, to get a job and keep it, sports, and the bullies are out of hand!
Teen suicide is also a real thing, and our kids and teenagers have to worry about it. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association: in 2017 there were over 6,200 deaths among young adults and adolescents from ages 15-24. One of my teens knew someone in her class that has committed suicide. I would say that this is a very real life experience. Death is a lot for anyone to experience, let alone a teenager who is literally only capable of thinking emotionally.
That is just one example of how very real their experiences are. Their hearts get broken, and we tell them that “there are plenty of people out there in this big old world”. While that may be true, it doesn’t mean their heart is going to hurt any less. They are human beings too, and this is something they will have to figure out how to deal with on their own. Hopefully also with your guidance. (I know I keep saying that they are human beings too, but that is because I also often refer to my teenagers as creatures – all out of love. I promise.)
They Are Trying To Figure Out Who They Are, Who They’ll Be, and Where They’re Going
Crap, aren’t we all? I am still trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. That’s because life has stages and changes. In all realness, though, a lot of decisions our teens make now will affect so much. If they get into college, which college, are they joining the military? What do they want to major in, what will their MOS be if they choose the military? These are all very big and life changing decisions. It hardly seems fair that they are expected to make all of these decisions while their brains aren’t fully developed yet.
That’s where parents are supposed to come in, right? To help? I absolutely think so. Let me be clear on something though. Providing guidance and helping them think through which decisions are best for them is VERY DIFFERENT than telling them what they will be doing with their life. As adults, we might think to ask some questions that they wouldn’t. These questions can bring on a whole new perspective.
What Can We Do To Help?
Just as being a teenager is complicated, trying to figure them out is almost impossible! Goodness. One minute my teens love me and want to tell me everything and the next they just want to hibernate in their rooms.
Over the last two years or so, I have found a few things that work for our family. Every family dynamic is different, so what may work for my family might not work for yours or vice versa. When my teens are clearly overloaded here is what I do to try and help:
- Give them space! If they are going through something, it is likely they just need time to work it out. Let them know you are there for them if they want to talk, but don’t suffocate them.
- If they do want to talk, ask them if they want you to do something about their issue or just listen to them. My kids are pretty good about asking me if they want me to do something or immediately telling me yay or nay if I offer up something.
- If they are needing time off – please for the love of their health – let them have it. My son called me one day during his lunch hour (which also happens to be mine) and asked if he could come home. He was in tears, and he NEVER does this. I absolutely let him do it! He was having a hard day, feeling all of the pressure, and needed time. When he got home, still during lunch, he gave me a big hug and cried in my arms. I set boundaries with them, knowing they can’t do that often and only if they really need it. I think it is important for their mental health, though.
- Praise them when they do well. Thank them for doing their chores, yes even though they know they are supposed to. Tell them you are proud of them when they get good grades. If there is one or a couple grades they can improve on, tell them you’re proud of the good grades and would like to see the lower grades match the higher ones. Teens NEED assurance and acceptance from their parents, or even to feel appreciated. (Sometimes they won’t even respond, but they still have feelings about it, they’re not robots even though they might act like it. LOL)
- Have conversations with them about things other than their responsibilities. Don’t make all of your interactions about house chores, school, and sports. Ask them how their day went. It makes a difference.
There you have it! I think the last thing I always have to remember to tell myself is to choose my battles. Of course, sometimes enough is enough and we don’t tolerate disrespect in our house so sometimes attitudes have to be addressed. For the most part, though, our house is pretty peaceful. Let me know what works for your family, when your teens are going through a lot! What helps, what doesn’t? I could ALWAYS use fresh ideas. 🙂