Monday, July 11, 2011

The Terrible Teens!

My boys are 11 and 13, respectively.  Actually, they don't give me much respect, but that's to be expected.  They're teenagers.

I never understood parents who gripe about their children's "teen years": the sullen attitude, talking back, disobeying rules, fits of depression, fits of anger.  As if they themselves didn't put their own parents through the same thing lo those many years ago.  We tend to look upon our own youth through rose-tinted glasses.  WE were saints, right?  Never gave mom and dad an ounce of trouble?  Yeah, right.

If they're still around, go and ask your own parents what your teen years were like.  What they went through with you.  Then, quit griping.  They're teens, just like you were, with the same rush of hormones to deal with.  The same increase in responsibility without a like amount of respect.  The same disdain from adults to bear with, the same mistrust and fear of authority.  The same temptations: sex, drugs, fast cars, theft, disobedience.

Being a teen sucks.  Not to pat myself on the back, but I tend to consider myself enlightened when it comes to that little revelation.  So many parents scoff at the idea of the teen life being difficult, as if all the above issues mean nothing when compared to adult concerns.  Sure, we have bills, jobs, responsibilities they don't have.  But they live in a tight little microcosm that includes school, home and friends and not much else.

Junior high and high school are a crucible, constantly pounding away at a kid's individuality.  It exists to mold the future adults from the primal clay of adolescence.  Does it ever feel good to be molded, to be fit into a little box and told "This is how you should be,"?  Even if it's for 'their own good', nobody likes being told what to do.  And that's what being a teenager consists of: being told what to do.  Day in and day out, do this, not that, look this way, don't be different, follow the rules, sit quietly, keep your opinions to yourself.  Then we tell them to 'just be yourself'.  No wonder so many teens become sullen and depressed.

Your reputation as an adult is based on many realms.  You are one person at work, one when out at the bar with friends, another at home with the family.  You can leave work stresses behind at the bar or the game, or come home to your significant other, who hopefully eases your troubled thoughts.  Husband or wife driving you nuts?  At your job, you can throw yourself into your work, or shoot the breeze with friends.  There's always another option.  But high school is work, friends and family all rolled up into one.  If someone at work is spreading nasty rumors, you can report them, confront them, ignore them, or find another job.  In school, those rumors are part of your whole world.  It's a vile little world, and what happens there is your everything.  There is no escape.

I remember my own teen years as one would recall a particularly vivid nightmare upon awakening.  I was the 'odd' kid, with looks and mannerisms that didn't fit the status quo.  As if facing being poured into the societal mold wasn't enough, I faced humiliation from my peers, my parents, even some cruel teachers.  Junior high and high school sucked.  Security followed me around department stores, even though I never shoplifted in my life.  Nobody wanted my opinion, even on those rare times I had a valid point to make.  Yet I was expected to work hard at school, make my teachers and parents proud.  Responsibility without respect.

So, when our own teens start going through those years of angst, why do we act surprised, even affronted, at what we have to face?  It reminds me of a comment a friend made recently, mentioning how angry he got when people complained about rush hour traffic.  "As if it were a new thing," he grumbled, "like you didn't do the same thing yesterday, and the day before, for weeks on end!"  So when your teen starts acting out, talking back, getting into trouble, try a new tactic besides yelling and complaining.  Try understanding.  Be strict, but be fair.  Because being a teenager sucks.

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