Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Teenagers and Parents

My Dear Reader,

You may think that I am being very bold, or at least a little presumptuous, when I attempt to write about teenagers and their parents. Granted, I've never been the parent of anyone, but I was a teenager not too long ago, and I have three siblings who happen to be between the ages of twelve and twenty. When I was a teen, I very much wanted to say some things to adults, but I found that my point of view was not taken seriously. While I greatly respect parenting as a heavenly calling and look forward to having children of my own someday, I find it rather disturbing that all of the literature that you will find on what is inside the teenage mind is written by adults, most of who have spent more years after teenage-dom than they ever spent in it. Since I'm now a twenty-something (twenty-two, to be exact) instead of a teenager, perhaps people might actually listen this time. Thus, I would like to speak briefly and frankly about something that I really wish parents understood: being a teenager is hard because the world is collapsing on top of you, and you have no idea how to handle it.

When I was a child, it seemed that adults were constantly trying to reassure me that I was in good hands. Whether it was a teacher, my friend's parent, or my parents themselves, I was told that parents always know what is best and always act in my best interest. As a child who couldn't fathom why anyone would do the opposite, I didn't raise many objections to the idea, and I think most children are the same way. Sure, they might protest when a parent makes a decision that they don't like, but most children generally accept that their parents have the authority. As these children grow up, however, and their brains begin to process more and more information, they start to see the world for what it is, and not for what they were told it would be. The difference is very disconcerting. The more they grow, the more they see that sometimes parents are selfish, and sometimes they make mistakes. Most shockingly, they observe that a lot of the time, parents are just making it up as they go along. Similarly, while it is easy for them to see how their parents are selfish and imperfect, the concept of human sacrifice and selflessness is a lot harder for them to see, and even harder to understand (just ask Voldemort). And while any idiot understands that no one is perfect, the behavior that they see does not match up to the behavior they were made to believe existed, and the world they used to know and trust starts to crumble at their feet.

This, very often, makes them wonder why selfish, mistaken, clueless people have complete control over their everyday life. I think that anyone in their predicament would be at least slightly concerned, after all, up has turned to down, black has turned to white, and cows have started barking at the moon. This turns into what is called teenage rebellion, a term which I believe is actually a misnomer, as this phenomenon is more accurately described as human nature. Haven't you heard of the American Revolution? When adults see that the powers governing them are flawed (especially when said powers keep trying assure them of their benevolence), they tend to have a problem with that. They also tend to get very angry and try to do something about it. Teens are essentially doing the same thing. So no matter how much adults may complain about teenage rebellion, it is actually the very first adult thing that a teenager does, because it shows that teenagers are starting to think for themselves. If teenagers don't learn how to think for themselves, they will never be able to grow up and function in the world as an adult. At the same time, however, they are still in the process of growing, and their thought processes haven't fully developed. This means that though they understand that the system they live under is flawed, they may have no idea how to change it. Still, they try.

In their attempts to figure out what the world is and how to handle it, teenagers tend to behave the way they have seen their parents behave when they were angry. After all, anger is what any human would feel when the world is revealed to be corrupt, especially if its counteracting benevolence remains hidden from them. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, when many teens turn to behavior that is often described as emotionally violent. I've heard a lot of adults complain about the way children "learn violence" from the media, and I've definitely seen that happen. But what I've actually seen more often is that many kids aren't lucky enough to learn violence from television; they see it in real life. It's one thing to see violence glorified by actors on a screen, but experiencing violence is much more effective. This is the main reason why I'm very opposed to spanking, especially for young children, because I firmly believe that it teaches kids that violence solves problems. My reasoning stems from the fact that a lot of spanking occurs when the parent is very angry. And when a parent is angry, the child might interpret the violent response as a punishment for making the parent angry, and not for disobeying the rules. Thus, the child learns that anger and violence are Siamese twins joined at the hip, and it is impossible to separate one from the other. So, the more a child is punished for making a parent angry, the more a parent is teaching a child that emotions are caused by other people, and that when people make you angry, they need to pay.

It is very lucky, then, that teenagers tend to limit themselves to emotional violence instead of the physical violence that they have experienced so many times. I think that this has to do with love and compassion on behalf of the teenager more than anything else, but fear of retribution is probably a big part of the equation as well. Still, they have seen their parents scream, so they scream. They have seen their parents ignore them, so they ignore their parents. They have seen their parents be selfish, so they act selfishly. It may seem a bit dramatic to an adult, who stands on firm ground, but an adult in a ten-point earthquake would probably do something similar. It will take years before the world settles down for them again and their internal struggle is at an end, before they will see that good and evil coexist in the universe and within every human being. It will take them years before they can forgive you for not being perfect.

I realize that the picture I have painted of teenagers in this entry has been the worst-case scenario. I have perhaps exaggerated a little, but I don't think that I have exaggerated the situation any more than adults exaggerate it to each other, for I have been present at enough adult conversations to know that adults can complain about their teenagers as much as their teenagers complain about them. You see, I can get why teenagers are so angry, and why they feel that they are at war, but I don't really get why adults fight as if they are in a war, too. Perhaps I will have to have teenagers of my own before I understand why adults are so offended when their authority becomes less and less absolute. Maybe it's because the world is turning upside-down for the parents, too.

Or maybe I'm completely wrong about everything.

Regards, best wishes, and viewpoints,

-Cecily Jane


Chris said...

I believe your last comment about the parent's world turning upside down aswell is very true. WHen one becomes a parent, thier child is completley dependant upon them for everything. As they grow they exert more and more independance. While this is a good thing, it is hard to see your children make mistakes. You want to rush in and keep them from falling. When they don't listen to you (who have learned from experience that the stove is hot) and go ahead and touch it anyway, they are burned. You tried to prevent it, but you could not do more.

When a child grows into a teenager not only are they continually exerting thier ever growing independance, but they are dealing with an influx of of hormones, which thier bodies are not yet used to...this wreaks havoc on everything! It is overwhelming for a parent, who remembers holding this child in thier arms and caring for thier every need, to correctly rear this teenager who needs both freedom and boundaries. Deciding where to set the boundaries and where to allow the freedom has to be one of the hardest parts of parenthood. A parent has been a teenager (albiet many years before) and remembers the changes that they went through, and honestly it terrifies them!! Just thinking about my children becoming teenagers terrifies me. It is so easy to want to lock them up in a bubble and keep anything harmful from them. But, we cannot, and I have discovered that parenting is a learning process as much as childhood, and the teen years are.

OK, so that was random! LOL!

Anonymous said...

Some good points Cecily and Christine. Interesting perspectives that we can learn from. MJH

Allison Harris said...

I am quite inclined to agree with you. And by the way, I like the template change.

GMB Forum said...

I asked a mentor of mine if she ever spanked or threw angry fits. She state she would never give her children that kind of power over her. Every parent chooses how they behave and react. I choose to react/act like the parent (most of the time). Teenagers are 90% great Christine !!! You will love them!

Nintendood said...

Very interesting points you made. It reminds me of the 13th book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, when the Baudelaire orphans realize that their parents didnt want to raise them so that that would never have to confront the evils of the world. They raised them so that they could push THROUGH the evils of teh world, and come out triumphant.

Anonymous said...

Pretty much true, I ignore my mom because she does the same and sometimes she pretends not to hear me. Whenever I scream (The reason irrelevant) they just don't care, they don't care that I could have broken my leg or anything, they just continue what they're doing or come and pretty much say "SHUT UP" but that's probably my parents.