Our oldest two children are 17 and almost 21 (in a few short weeks). Through them, I can listen to the things that they have observed in their relationships with others outside the family. They have mentioned addiction and a high level of depression and anxiety and other mental health disorders are prevalent in many of the people their age that they meet.
There really are no easy fixes as I think this demonstrates challenges with our entire society as children are born and grow up, from the baseline of our food and drinking water all the way to a lack of supportive community in raising children. Then, the individuality of each situation is superimposed on this background for even more factors.
We don’t often talk about raising teenagers, except sometimes society bemoans younger generations in general terms. The teenagers I have met are such intelligent, sensitive young adults. I don’t wish to bemoan this generation of children at all! The purpose of my life’s work has been geared toward helping parents be healthy and helping families be healthy. So, in supporting these young people in the years of the 15/16 change into the early 20s, what are the best things we can do to help?
Betty Staley writes in her book, “Between Form and Freedom: A practical guide to the teenaged years” that, “They (teenagers) feel they have to impress those around them, but they are not sure who they are. To find out, young teenagers put on many different masks. The response to each mask gives the teenager clues to the acceptability of one personality type and another. Thus, the youngster decides whether to adopt a particular way of behaving. The teenager turns to the peers to define behavior.” (page 192). This becomes less important after the 15/16 year old change, author Staley points out, but also that children can become “stuck” in adolescence and sometimes need a new setting to start over.
Staley writes, “For healthy emotional development, adolescents need a protective circle of support. This circle should include their family, their school, their religious leaders, and their community. However, with the breakdown of the family, de-personalization of the schools, weakening of religious ties and instability of the community, teenagers do not have a protective circle.”
So, several things come to mind for me in supporting today’s teenagers.
I think one idea is to help the teenager develop a sense of self-worth, self-esteem, respect for oneself. This is easier said than done. Emotional maturity takes a long time, but I think the more we can dial things down and involve less competitiveness and pressure, the more the teenager can let their “real self” emerge.
If your teenager wants to bounce back against whatever they think their family stands for, to be the opposite, I often feel this is actually a continuation of earlier development where children want to do what they want to do that ties back into that emotional maturity piece. We can teach our young adults that we can slow down and think about decisions, know pros and cons, and then though we have to live with the outcomes. That responsibility piece is often hard to learn, and also to feel comfortable in making wrong decisions and mistakes.
The second idea is to see how big a protective circle you need. If your children are in school, I am in favor of smaller school settings rather than the large high schools with 900 students in a graduating class. Are their teachers, coaches, friends and friends’ parents helpful? Do they listen to your teenager? At this age, teenagers can certainly take instruction and learn from people they don’t necessarily like, but it is important to have a circle that does understand and listen.
Within your family, can you help them find their place? Betty Staley writes on page 194, “They are not children and they are not adults. Most of what they want to do when they are fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen is illegal or unadvisable, yet they are being urged to do it anyway.” (referencing media images). Instead of pushing our early teenagers ahead to the late teenaged or college aged activities, see if there is anything you can hold back for past the 15/16 change that makes sense within your family structure.
Artistic pursuits can be so helpful for this age if that is an option. The arts nourish the soul, and promote individualism in a unique way and through the unique voice of their creator.
Betty Staley writes about how adolescence can be a loss. It means leaving childhood behind, adjusting to bodily changes, losing childhood innocence, losing dependence upon parents. So, we need to be open to helping guide our children through stressful times, and really listening. Communication skills and communication coaching are valuable in this way for our teenagers.
The thing that has been the most helpful in our family, outside of spending a lot of time together, has been a connection with nature. We did this primarily through horses, but also did plenty of camping , being outside in general, 4H and things like that..
What things come to your mind in supporting early teens, teens in that 15/16 change, and in our older teens and young adults? Would love to hear from you.
Blessings and peace,