Living with teenagers can be challenging. In the space of a mealtime they can be full of carefree laughter, joking and sharing anecdotes, then suddenly switch to criticism that verges on cruelty for reasons that are unfathomable. No matter how much care is taken to tiptoe around their feelings or confront their behaviour calmly and rationally, it seems impossible to treat them as they wish. And of course, in their eyes, they are always in the right. At least at that moment of confrontation.
I have a huge amount of sympathy for the young people going through this period of their lives. Consider how the average twelve to thirteen year old behaves and then look at the maturity of a young adult of nineteen to twenty. So many changes must be dealt with in so short a time. It is no wonder that their reactions can be all over the place.
Science may be able to explain teenage behaviour with hormone fluctuations and sudden growth spurts upsetting the natural, mood balancing functions; psychology may be able to point at the expectations put on children moving into adulthood in our modern world; but the reality of living with these young people needs more empathy and acceptance than clinical studies provide. Each of us is different and each young person will deal with their situation in their own way. I do not believe that there is a catch all solution; we need to accept these teenagers for what they are and not try to morph them into something that we wish them to be. We need to allow them to grow up in their own way.
It has been said that youth is wasted on the young but I would not wish to relive my teenage years; not that I had such a bad time. I lived with loving parents and a sister I was close to; I had good friends and did well enough at school. There were no particular difficulties to overcome but I still experienced both the best of times and the worst of times. I felt the frustration of being reliant on others, unable to be as independent as I wished; I slipped in and out of friendship groups, never quite feeling that I could be the person that I wanted to be in any of them; I felt the longing for and loss of love.
Looking back on those years they seem filled with highlights and moments of despair. I suffered the torment and longing of unrequited love; I enjoyed the flying, joyousness of being truly, madly, deeply in love (several times!); I suffered the total, blackness of despair when rejected; I behaved badly and caused heartache for others. In between all of these extreme emotions I was enjoying the excitement of new experiences; I was taken on a trip in a private plane, I was chauffeur driven to the best seats in a concert, I spent a day on a beach with a group of friends. That day stands out amongst so many for reasons I cannot explain. Perhaps that is a part of why being a teenager is so tough; sometimes what is good and what is not cannot be clearly defined, it just is.
I sometimes think that older generations look at young people and the lives that they lead and consider that they have an easy life compared to what has gone before. It is my view that each generation simply faces different challenges. There are issues that do not change; friendships, relationships, exam pressures, a desire for more independence; but there are also issues unique to each generation. It is these that can be the hardest for a parent to understand. We have not experienced the here and now that today’s teenagers must face, and may not even be aware of the issues that exist.
I am always grateful when my children talk to me about their lives. It can be so tempting, as a parent, to try to mould a child; to offer advice that is not requested; to lay down rules that are not needed. My children are all different; they are individuals who think, feel and react in different ways. They need love, support and acceptance more than criticism. They need to understand that there are rules that must be followed, but that these should make sense; they are there for a good reason that can be explained, understood and accepted.
When I end up in a confrontation with one of my teenagers I try to look at how I could behave better. Sometimes their reaction is inexplicable but that does not necessarily make it unreasonable. Perhaps they have had a bad day at school; perhaps they feel let down by a friend; perhaps they have not eaten enough or slept enough; perhaps they cannot explain why and will feel bad about how they have behaved. It can be tempting to just accept the stereotypes and put it all down to how it is; they will grow out of it; just a phase they need to get through.
I prefer to deal with it as I would any other confrontation; to let a little time pass and then talk it through. If I have been angered then an apology makes me feel better. If my child thinks that I have behaved unreasonably then we can discuss why I did or said what I did and whether their reaction was reasonable and justified. Generally we both come out of this process understanding the other a little bit better. I am wrong as often as they are.
None of this makes living with teenagers easy but I find that it helps. If I can learn to understand my children as they become the adults that they will be then I hope that I can offer them more support; be someone they feel that they can trust and want to spend time with. Teenagers are, after all, just people. So are parents. I want them to understand me. I want to earn their respect and deserve their love. I will always be there for them but it will be their choice whether or not they make use of what I offer. Living with teenagers offers us a window into the world of what will be. It is a journey that I want to make.