A set of parents asked me this at my latest workshop.

It seems that their 14-year-old son is mostly uncommunicative, mumbling, avoids them, sits in silence at the dinner table, stays in his room…except for the moments when he explodes in rage. He yells and curses at them, and then stomps off to his room and slams the door.

I told them what I knew about rage: that it “kindles,” it feeds on itself and becomes an ingrained reflex that becomes harder and harder to unlearn.  I advised them to talk with a counselor.

Since then I’ve been imagining: What might this young man be so enraged about?

And it took me back to my own angry teen years, when that now- iconic song, Sunshine, was my rebellious anthem, especially these lines I’ve printed in bold:

Sunshine go away today
I don’t feel much like dancing
Some man’s gone, he’s tried to run my life
Don’t know what he’s asking

He tells me I’d better get in line
Can’t hear what he’s saying
When I grow up I’m going to make it mine

But these aren’t dues I been paying

How much does it cost, I’ll buy it
The time is all we’ve lost, I’ll try it
But he can’t even run his own life
I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine…

I used to especially storm around thinking this about my mother, that she can’t even run her own life, how dare she try and run mine ?

My mom was struggling, had her own issues and pressures and disappointments. And I knew that. I am sure that a combination of shame and denial made my mom try and conceal her anguish.

I’m also positive that she harbored these standard beliefs about how a parent:

  • is supposed to appear strong and stable
  • is supposed to provide simple, clear messages
  • is supposed to filter out harshness and protect children from terrifying information
  • is supposed to provide safety and guidance

Meanwhile, at age 13, I was already exposed daily to fear and hurt and complexity. I knew that people were not kind, I knew the world was full of huge problems and grave unfairness….and, frankly, the most terrifying and insulting thing was to not be heard and respected and taken seriously.

I work with teens every day, and let me assure you, by the time kids are 13, they are every bit as intelligent as adults.

Not as experienced. Not as “mature.” (though I often see kids acting more maturely than the adults around them)

I think parents, in an attempt to shelter their teens, often wind up being evasive and dishonest. Teens are intelligent and perceptive, and they can tell when a parent isn’t telling the full truth, is sugar-coating or bluffing or omitting important details.

Most people can tell when a loved one isn’t telling the full truth, and it’s not merciful; it’s terrifying and enraging. I think parents, in their desire to appear strong and clear and “together,” inadvertently wind up freaking their kids out and creating distrust and distance.

What is Mom hiding? What is Dad so afraid to talk about? Why won’t they tell me what’s really going on? Why won’t they admit their own flaws and mistakes, so I can learn how to deal with my own flaws and mistakes?Why do they keep treating me like a child, when I’m their intellectual equal?

Think back to your own teen years. Were you frightened? Angry? Why?

[I love windows! They suggest clarity, transparency, honesty…and facing whatever Truth lies outside. Photos from my flight back from Paris, and a storm at LisSurMer]