Chances are your child is going to have an identity crisis at some point mid-way through their teenage years. Unfortunately, in a cruel twist of nature, it may coincide with your own mid-life crisis — a potentially lethal combination. It’s Survivor on double hormones!
Somehow, the deal seems to be that for kids to grow fully into their adult selves, they sometimes have to destroy their most significant parent in the process. How you speak, what you wear, your friends, your hair style, what music you listen to, how you drink your tea — it’s all up for critical dissection by your hormone-fuelled, know-it-all teen, and by gad it’s painful.
It’s a heart-wrenching experience as the child who so recently adored you now looks at you as if you are a piece of shit the dog dragged in. It will make you question your very being to the core. It will make you feel old-fashioned and uncool. At times, it will make you doubt your sanity.
You can end up joining your teen in questioning the very point of your existence; given what a rotten person, parent and friend you are. Any lurking self-doubt in you will be mined and exaggerated until the confident, reasonably balanced person you once knew yourself to be has become a distant memory.
Depending on your teenager’s personality, hormone levels, family dynamics and social cohort, this crisis will either be softly transitional or of biblical proportions that will unhinge you and likely rob you of your sense of self for a while.
The positive from this is that your teen is trying to figure out what kind of adult they want to become. They’ve been watching you — and other adults — for years and have begun forming a world view based on personality, upbringing and social experiences.
Now is their time, they want to mark out their own human territory. “This is me; my unique self, different to you.” It’s an important rite of passage.
They’ll build on their developing social conscience, and moral and ethical compass. They’ll hopefully begin dreaming and scheming about what work they might do and how they’ll achieve study and career goals. Or … they’ll sit around doing two-fifths-of-****-all for months on end, rebuffing every suggestion you make until you’d like to throttle them! They’ll also be checking out clothing styles and ‘looks’ to see what fits, spending hours in front of the mirror to gauge reactions. To comment on this would be a mistake.
Sure, there are some rare kids who decide they want to emulate their parent/s and be just like them. Well done those parents. But this was not our experience. Despite us being wonderful people (lol), all four of our teens challenged us at various times — and subsequently grew into the wonderful, unique adults they are. (The good news is that after you’ve been through this personality dissection once, you know the game and it’s so much easier in following rounds. Watch out second and subsequent children, we come armed!)
But once again, the key advice is don’t get in the ring with your teen. New research shows the brain doesn’t finish developing until about 25, some say 28 for males. So don’t go into battle with a hormone-fuelled teenager trying his/her luck. As American neurologist and neuroscientist Dr Frances Jensen reminds us, teenagers are not adults with fewer miles on them: “They may look big and strong or fully mature on the outside but their brains are only about 80 per cent of the way there.”
That’s where you — an experienced, frontal-cortex thinker — comes in. You can be the brains he/she isn’t using. The hard rub is that you can give them information, which they are usually receptive to (even if they don’t appear to be listening) but you still have to let them make and learn from their own mistakes.
When they hiss and spit, breathe and take time out. Come back and discuss whatever the current issue is when you/they are calm. Let them know you are not asking them to be just like you; rather that you are interested in who they are becoming and what their ideas are. That we are all on an individual journey and we are here to do different things.
But remember, you are still the parent and if you consider their choices are potentially deadly or permanently damaging, step in with a “That’s not happening on my parent watch.” If they respond with “You’re a bitch/bastard for not letting me do whatever crazy idea I am currently passionate about,” quietly say “Yes, and you can be a bitch/bastard when you grow up too.”
By Ruth Kerr and Richard Aston, parents to four adult children in a blended family. Ruth and Richard co-authored Our Boys – Raising strong, happy sons from boyhood to manhood based on their 15 years’ experience working at Big Buddy – a social agency that matches well-screened male mentors with fatherless boys.