by Robin L Goldstein, EdD Licensed Psychologist

Who is this person who’s taken up residence in your family and abducted your daughter or son? She’s touchy and over-sensitive. He doesn’t want to talk to you any more about what’s going on his life. She’s always so angry. He doesn’t appreciate anything you do for him. Most of us will find clues if we are able to recall our own teenage years. Adolescence can be a time of great turmoil. We don’t quite feel like children but becoming an adult is frightening. There’s a lot of pressure to be tough and cool and not depend on our parents even though we still know we need them greatly. The pressures of school are increasing and fears about the future and what we plan to do with it loom large.

It can help us to cope with the problems our teenagers are revealing by remembering that “adolescence” is a modern invention. For most of human history people were self-supporting adults by the age of thirteen, often raising their own children or younger siblings by then. (See, there is a reason for those raging hormones.) By 12 or 13 these “children” were apprentices and agricultural workers, stewards and clerks or serving in armies. In third world countries this is still the case; that is, teenagers, are actively contributing to the support of their families.

Industrial societies demand more complex and sophisticated skills of their workers and this requires a much longer period of training and education. Occupations at the higher end of the economy require 16 or more years of education and young people pursuing this will be likely to require the economic support of their families in to their early twenties. This creates a great dilemma. Mentally and physically, these older teenagers are adults but they are forced to be dependent on others. This sets up the tension and conflict so many families experience.

Younger teenagers (12 to 16) face different challenges-giving up childhood and preparing for adulthood. In our country, it was possible to shelter children of this age throughout the last 60 years. In the age of modern media this kind of protection is no longer possible. Our young teenagers are bombarded by media images-the Internet, movies, television, social networking, all of which teach them to be sexy, tough, cool, aggressive often before they are ready to do so. The media pressures them to grow up fast without any of the real responsibility that allows people to mature. Remember your attitudes about staying up late, indulging in drugs or alcohol, speaking your mind whenever you felt like it changed rapidly once you had the obligations of a job, a mortgage, relationships that really mattered and children.

So how can parents help? Remember that there is a frightened and confused child often lurking just under the bravado exterior. Try to get in touch with that aspect of their lives. Express sympathy and concern, “you must be feeling a lot of pressure to be blowing up at me like that.” It can help to share your memories of your own adolescent conflicts and blunders. Talk about sex, even if they don’t seem to be listening. Talk about the pressure on both boys and girls to be sexual before they are ready and the importance of their being true to their own needs and values.

While it is a myth that all adolescent go through terrible times, many do. Most families reach the other side with love and strong relationships if they are able to weather the storms of the teenage years. Your teenager needs your love and guidance. You have to find your opportunities in between the challenging times.

If you are the parent of a (troubled) teenager, I can help you, contact me.