If you’re raising kids, you’ve doubtless heard older, wiser parents tell you (roughtly a million times), “Wait until you get to the teenage years. They’re hell. You just gotta grit your teeth and get through it until they come back around.”
I’ve heard phrases like that so many times I couldn’t even count them. And I’m not scoffing at them! I believe them when they say they’ve gone through pain and heartache during those years.
In fact, it’s always made me feel a little sick when I think about one of my daughters becoming a teenager. Almost immediately, my mind is flooded with images of them screaming at me, cutting themselves, popping pills, having sex, drinking alcohol, or taking naked pictures of themselves.
Literally. Those are the things my mind goes to. What else would I think about when imagining my impending “hell?”
But in recent years, I’ve learned a whole new side to this TERROR.
Parents are the only ones experiencing heartache, confusion, and a sense of complete overwhelm. The teens themselves are feeling those things, too. In fact, they’re probably feeling them at about five times the intensity that their parents are.
These kids are going through hell, too, guys.
Obviously, I remember my own experience as a teenager—believing I was in love with every boy I dated, feeling so depressed that I wanted to hurt myself, driving fast enough to kill myself and everyone in my car—but since becoming an adult, I’ve always viewed my teen years as embarrassing. I’ve never allowed myself to look back and feel empathy for my younger self.
I never gave myself permission to admit that those years were absolutely miserable, NOT because I was an idiot, but because I was experiencing change in almost every area of life.
My body was changing. My social circle was changing. My hormones were all over the place. Everything I had known my entire life … was changing.
I didn’t really believe that my parents were hateful, unfair monsters. But when they said something that even slightly irritated me, my emotions boiled over without warning and I was screaming at them. Looking back, I can see that those moments have to have been really difficult for them.
But they were horrible for me, too.
It felt like I was standing next to myself, watching how horrid I was being to the people who loved me, but I couldn’t stop yelling. THAT’S hellish. It makes you feel mean and small and embarrassed.
The moment I started to think about all of this from a teen’s perspective was when I worked as the house parent of a teenage group home with my husband. We had eight boys at a time living with us to practice more positive behavioral and social skills, but most of their “problems” were severely complicated by the fact that they were hormonal basketcases.
As adults, a lot of those boys would have been able to get by somewhat successfully. But during the years when everything within them, biologically, was flipped on its head, they were quicker to get angry, more likely to punch holes in walls, more susceptible to depression and suicide, and far more likely to get in trouble for having sex with girls.
So much of it revolved around their development stages.
Since then, I’ve started to pay more attention to what young people are actually feeling when they’re going through behaviors, instead of just what their loved ones are feeling. Most often, I’ve found that the kids are just feeling overwhelmed.
They’re overwhelmed by the fear of failing. They’re overwhelmed by the amount of homework they have. By the fact that they have to choose a college major soon. By the internal feeling of needing to have it all together. By the fact that they’re expected to know how to solve quadratic equations AND manage their own love lives throughout a school day.
It’s just a lot.
We’re fostering a girl right now who is in her first year of middle school, and she’s a constant mixture of anger and adoration. She flips like a lightswitch. It’s not even a slow pendulum; it’s a quick flip.
One second, she’s laughing with me in the car, singing a silly song. The next, she’s glaring at me and leaning toward the window because I’ve disgusted her for some reason or another.
At first, I felt caught up in the mood swings she took with her everywhere she went. But then I realized that she really doesn’t enjoy those mood swings either. She isn’t trying to be rude. She isn’t even trying to make a point.
She’s just trying to get through the day.
So the next time you’re listening to your teenager cry about how unfair you’re being, or how annoying her teacher is, or how hard his chores are, remember that they probably don’t like the way they’re feeling either.
Remember you’re not the only one going through hell.