The Challenge of Growing Up

So you think teenagers are so different now from when you and I were there? Sure, the tech revolution has added some bizarre twists but I recently had occasion to revisit the teenage revolt with a friend who’s having the usual heartburn trying to set the usual rules and explain the usual issues to her daughter.

As I watched I thought about the intrinsic rebellion built into that adolescent period from time immemorial Why was it ever thus? Well, here’s what I think.

Adolescents have this monumental task of needing to flex and test their own muscles to see if they’ll be strong enough to take the next step—to  move into the tough and complex world they see— to take their own place in it, handle the blows and challenges, become self- determining and emerge as adults. Needs lotsa muscle and  confidence- building to confront that. Where’s the best and safest gym to try out those counter-punches? With the folks that until yesterday seemed like their bulwark and safety net. But to start this workout, teens must first reject what they’ve always relied on. So that’s the beginning of the battle from the teen’s side.

But what about the poor beleaguered parents? They’re being tested too. Their power is also being challenged. Instead of making fists, as the kids need to do, parents’ challenge is to open that tight hand on the reins and begin to let go. How terrifying! This change of roles can also say  “am I losing my power over my kid? Maybe even in my world?”.So here’s the standoff and the source of the battle.

The teens need to reject, rebel, dare to be rude and obnoxious, break the rules and make their own decisions — all in an effort to test if they can be strong enough to do that and survive.

And the parents? They’re hanging on for dear life not just to the past and the roles of wise advisor, teacher and rule-maker, but they’re also being pushed into taking the next step in their own development. They need to let go and find their strength and reassurance in other ways, and a new role in relation to their kids.

But there’s one more thing. Teens recognize that the unmitigated love and care they got at home will not continue in that big world they’re entering. So they need to break that dependence on the parents, to snap that comfortable bond, in order to find out if they can live without that too. Thus they need to make themselves so obnoxious that their parents will reject them at the same time that they’re doing the rejection. To make the next step of “Go- get out of here already!” come from the parents, making it easier for teenagers to leave.

What do you think?