When will this confusion, this anxiety, these unnamed, awful feelings GO AWAY?!? When will I learn to control my feelings and not spill my guts on the people I love most? Will it be when I die? When I grow up?
When WILL I grow up? Will being an adult be any better than right now? Or will I have these feelings ten times stronger but be expected to control myself even more than I do already?
I HATE being a teenager! No one really understands what I’m going through. No one has answers. I wish I could just die and be done with this misery! Does anyone care? Is anyone listening?
Hear the cry of a teenager. She is broken. She is confused. She does not understand why she does what she does, why she feels what she feels, or how to deal with it. Worst of all, she has no one to help her. She has no hope.
Teenagers face a lot of difficulties and seek affirmation, understanding, and love in an evil world. The relationships with their parents are in shambles and expected to be that way. But the problems teens face cannot be dealt with well by inexperienced adolescents. They require the guidance of parents who care, as well as the listening of teens who want to succeed in a world populated with traps of all kinds.
My desire is for teenagers and their parents to establish good relationships with each other. I strongly believe that we could turn the world upside-down if we would draw closer to one another and work with each other to get through the traps laid for us teenagers.
Before we even begin viewing the issues that teenagers struggle with, the state of relationships between parents and teens, and finally how this can be solved, let me add my obvious disclaimer for adults: I am a teenager talking about teenagers. You could expect to receive advice like “Buy more candy for your kids! Let them have cell phones and listen to whatever music they like! Make their allowances REALLY BIG! Let them do what they want!” I certainly won’t tell you that or give you other advice on parenting, but I would like you to come away from this speech with an urgent desire and a way to change the parent/teen relationships we see today.
Before understanding the desperate need for change in parent/teen relationships in today’s world, we have to understand the nature of the beast, namely, the teenager and what he faces.
I’ve asked several people who are past their adolescent years if they would want to be a teenager again. The reaction I got was one that surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t—teenagers fight similar battles, no matter which generation we talk about. None of them would be willing to be a teenager again if given the chance, unless it was to go back and correct a mistake.
Teenagers face a confusing world. We often do not know what our purpose in life is, and we’re told to follow our hearts. We don’t always know what our heart wants, having constant mood swings, and usually end up just making stupid decisions that could haunt us the rest of our lives. If that isn’t a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is.
In addition, teenagers are remarkably stupid. I mean no insult to any of my peers, but we are some of the silliest creatures! You have probably heard a horror story of what teenagers do if you haven’t been involved with a silly decision yourself: A perfectly sane kid, while out with some friends, decides that he wants to drag race in the middle of town, killing himself and his two younger siblings riding along; a good friend wants to see what beer tastes like and decides she likes it, thereby beginning a life of alcoholism. Another one feels as though she will never be attractive to the guys she likes, so she has a one-night stand with someone she doesn’t even know, becoming a single mother at 16.
Looking at teenagers from the inside, I think one of the most difficult things they face is confusion. They need to be preparing for their future, but they are told by all the “experts” (*cough* Walt Disney) that they should follow their hearts. Following their hearts usually includes partying late into the night, becoming part of the coolest clique, and getting members the opposite sex to notice them. It’s a lot more “fun” than what their parents tell them to do. Never mind the ensuing hangovers and heartbreak.
Parents, teenagers are going through a hard time. You know this because you’ve been there and you see them growing up all around you. They want their parents’ advice, but they aren’t good at communicating that such is the case. They need their parents’ advice, but they might not be willing to admit it. So then, what is preventing the communication that is the solution to good parent/teen relationships? Teenagers need parents, but the parent/teen relationship is in shambles today.
Rebellion is expected of teenagers. Our parents are told that they need to enjoy their young children before they reach adolescence. Movies portray parents as imbeciles who have to be rescued by their incredibly wise offspring (generally a teenager). In a world latent with abortion, teenagers are told that they wouldn’t be alive if they hadn’t come at a convenient time for their parents.
The message, then, that teens get is that our parents are morons who do not know how to identify with us, who have never been through what we are going through, and are afraid of us. We are encouraged to rebel against this less fully-evolved generation so that our next generation can get rid of the weaknesses of the former one. Is it any wonder that we have a problem?
Parents are afraid of their own children because they don’t know how to direct their kids through the tricky stage of adolescence. Because they fear their own children, everyone loses because the parents are not able to help their own children, losing authority over them, and the teenagers do not get the advice from the ones they desperately want it from.
I suppose, really, that you do not need to be persuaded that teenagers face a difficult world or that parent/teen relationships are in shambles. You see the effect of them all around you. The rate of unmarried teen moms is mind-bogglingly high and suicides had the largest annual increase in 2004, rising more than they have in 15 years (Wall Street Journal, Suicide), to name a few of the heart-wrenching facts that come as a result.
So we understand that there is a problem. Now we reach the crux of the matter: How to fix it so that teenagers can survive today and establish a standard for the next generation. This is a difficult job and not for the faint of heart. Both parents and teenagers have a job to do. Both involve communication and listening.
Let me begin by addressing the teenagers’ responsibility and what they need to be doing.
We teenagers are not somehow more evolved and thus better than our parents. We are going through a time where we need help in order to become adults who can have a good impact on the rest of the world. If anything has changed since our parents’ time, it is that our struggles have increased. That doesn’t mean that our parents’ experience suddenly becomes worthless; rather, it becomes crucial to possessing so that we can fight the new battles and fight them well.
Teenagers may be struggling with complicated issues. We may be struggling with trying to walk through a room without knocking over anything, how to act around our friends, how to resist peer pressure, or how to deal with the last relationship that just didn’t work. We may wish all the confusion would just END. But I don’t care. We teenagers have been commanded to honor our parents (Holy Bible, Deut.5.16). We weren’t told to honor and respect our parents…when we feel like it…or when we’re in a good mood…or to get something we want.
In addition to honoring our parents, we teenagers need to be willing to talk to our parents. Talking to our parents does not mean yelling at them. It can be something as basic as telling them how our day at school was or what we thought of the sermon. Not only do we need to talk to them, we also need to listen to our parents! I know, it’s a tough concept. But it is possible. I know because I’ve tried and haven’t died yet. And the amazing thing is that sometimes they have good advice. Even more amazing is how they become smarter as we become older…
Before explaining what parents can do to change the mess we’re in, I want to point out that what you do today will have impact on tomorrow. How you raise your children will affect how they raise their children. With that in mind, let’s dive into the task of involvement, discussed by Dennis and Barbara Rainey in their book Parenting Today’s Adolescent.
Involvement means crawling into your child’s heart and mind, no matter what you may find in there. You will probably be rejected because we teenagers don’t know what we need and what’s best for us. You need to get into your kids’ lives, but by winning and not shoving your way in.
Once you are in your teen’s confidence, you need to ask questions about them and listen. Attentively. You also need to let them know that you love them (32-34). Even if they do not respond significantly at first to your interest in their lives, they will gradually begin to appreciate the fact that you do care about them, and will slowly begin to open up to you as someone they can trust.
Parents, your involvement in your teenagers’ lives is critical. Remember your teen years. I don’t ask that you give your child slack so that they can have a bad attitude, but I do ask that you would open the lines of communication and encourage them to draw near to you. As our heavenly Father commands us, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (Holy Bible: King James Version. Jam.4.8), so you must “draw nigh” unto your children so that they will “draw nigh” unto you.
We have seen that teenagers are going through a difficult time just by being a teenager, that they do not have the relationships that they need with their parents, and finally how we can change that problem so that parents and teens can learn and grow from one another. We need to change so that the next generation of teenagers will have a standard of looking up to their parents for help so that the young woman will not be a teenager with no help but one with answers to survive her adolescence and change the next generation.
Rainey, Dennis, Barbara Rainey, and Bruce Nygren. Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers, 1998.
Dooren, Jennifer Corbett. “Suicides Increase by 8% in the 10 to 24 Age Group.” The Wall Street Journal Online 7 Sept.2007. 7 Dec. 2007