Over the weekend, I worked with a teenager and his father to take down a carport. Jim, not his real name, seemed disinterested in the entire affair and his father gave him frequent instructions and often in a tone that was just short of unpleasant.
Jim seemed awkward and bored and I am quite sure that he was. The instructions that Jim’s father was giving him were sound and aimed at helping Jim to do a good job, however, to an objective outside observer, it sounded harsh.
It made me think of my own teenage experience and a favorite gesture of my father, which was to whistle the song from the Wizard of Oz, “If I Only Had a Brain.” Though it was offered in jest, I’m not sure that it helped the situation.
As parents, I think we forget that being embarrassed publicly by a parent is particularly difficult as our parents are who we look to for support, kindness and patience.
Today, conversations between teenagers and parents are very different than those of my teenage years. Years ago, there were topics that teens did not talk to their parents about. Now, teens do talk to parents about issues like drinking, romantic relationships and other important concepts. The advent of Facebook and other technological innovations has taken the wrapper off once taboo topics and teens write on Facebook about their exploits, often with pictures that certainly would have been kept secret years ago.
I’m not sure if these changes are good or bad, I do know that the footing for teen/parent relationships has been dramatically altered. Though the world that teenagers inhabit with their parents has changed remarkably in the last 30 years, one fundamental concept has not; most parents want what is best for their teenager.
While teenagers from my generation rolled their eyes and made expressions of exasperation when parents talked to them, just like teenagers today, we were listening to our parents in spite of our outward expressions. As parents, we sometimes forget that our teenagers are vacillating between seeing us as someone who would thwart their independence and seeing us as their role model, hero and protector whose approval they want to gain. The signs of this inner struggle are manifested in teenagers by their outward expressions of frustration and moments of concentrated and careful consideration of what they are hearing.
In addition to a new social imperative driven by communications technologies, teenagers are operating under tremendous social pressure. In my opinion, much of the new communication technology is utilized to elevate what used to be called gossiping. I stopped logging on to Facebook several years ago because of this.
During my teenage years, many women were still at home and not in the workplace and now the opposite is true.This one change has had a profound effect on teenagers in that mothers are just not as available as they once were, making friendships between teens that much more important to them.
There was a time when teenagers had a number of adults from whom to reference or model behavior.
Many teens in my day worked in a variety of settings that put them shoulder to shoulder with adults. Currently many teens are unemployed and do not have this opportunity.
The net effect has been to make friendships among teens even more important than they were 30 years ago. A recent UCLA study discovered that social relationships today are so important that social rejection registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain. According to the study, there is little practical difference between a punch in the stomach and a social slam. Though teen’s primary reference group is other teens, parents can still play a vital role in helping them figure out life’s challenges.
Don’t forget to have some fun with your teen, not every interaction should be a lecture. Don’t stop hugging them and caring about them. Those important parental actions never go out of style.
Remember, all kids count.
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