Teenagers are graduating in May and June from high school. This long anticipated date is mixed with emotion. It is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. It is a transition and transitions are dangerous, as well as profound opportunities. Transitions are also part of the path of a teen’s life journey.
By the time a teenager is ready to graduate from high school most are tired. It has been the same old thing for a long time. Most teens have been in school thirteen years by the time graduation takes place. This is a long time to become familiar with something. Although change is desired for something new and different it may be hard for the teen to see how that is going to take place.
I have worked with hundreds of teenagers over the years. Graduation and senior year are filled with emotion. Often the teen keeps secrets about their fears, their doubts, and they feel they may have missed some turn along the way. I remind them everything is going to be Okay. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but it is seldom the way human beings arrive at their goals, dreams, and aspirations.
Now we have to talk a bit about parents.
Most parents love their children more than anyone or anything else. They also worry. Parents want their children to be healthy, happy, successful, and to live a respectable life. Parents often think that a well-designed path is the way to insure this. So, preschool is attended, music lessons are given, sports participation is encouraged, and studying is a part of life. A parent is a great director in the production known as their child’s life. Some parents take cues from their children, others don’t listen much at all, and still others decide the direction regardless of protest.
One of the things that causes great angst for teenagers is parents wishes and desires superimposed on their own wishes or on the space waiting for wishes to percolate. Teens tell me that they love their parents and know they are thinking about their best interests. However, teens start feeling directed and railroaded early on. By graduation they are a bundle of nerves, depression is rampant, and anxiety is electric throughout their emotional makeup.
Instead of feeling more confident and secure with all of the directing and experiences offered to them, they often feel more insecure. Children from families where there was little extra cash and even less involvement with extracurricular activities often emotionally mature earlier. They learn about life by way of their own successes and failures, rather than learning about life by way of parental direction. This does not mean children don’t have a parental compass inside if they come from a family of lesser means. All children and teens carry the good and not so good that they experienced from parents.
Whenever possible, and this is quite often, it is a good idea to listen, stand back, and ask more questions. Stephen Covey is known for his work with organizations and what makes for success. One of his observations is, Seek to Understand Before Seeking to Be Understood. This particularly applies to children and teens.
Teenagers are in transition between childhood and adulthood. They are capable and wise. Listen to what they need. Even if they do some things you don’t approve of, seek to understand the meaning of that behavior. It is easy as a parent to squash an unwanted behavior, habit, or emotion evident in your teen. By making it go away you may miss the opportunity to understand why the behavior, habit, or emotion is there. It will just re-surface somewhere else or in other time if it is not understood.
I can hear objection already. What about drug use and abuse? Well, your child will need treatment. Be sure your counselors or treatment center seeks to understand and not just disappear the unwanted behavior.
Be well and take care.
Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD
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Last reviewed: 20 May 2013