I am very lucky to have come to know many teenagers through working with them. I love being with them and am endlessly fascinated by the ways they spend their adolescence creating their own identities and sense of self. I see them as an evolving mix of ‘child and adult’.
However, I know many who find their own - and other - teenagers very problematic and give teens a ‘bad rap’. To be fair, they sometimes can be jaw droppingly self-absorbed, hypersensitive, susceptible to peer pressure and acutely self-conscious - but let’s celebrate the positive. How can we help ourselves to appreciate and enjoy teenagers more?
Firstly, let’s try to recall our own teenage years. What was it like for us? What were our biggest concerns? I remember that I was very typically wrapped up in how I looked, what I wore, and who I was with. I believed nobody understood how hard it was for me to be me. My teenage diaries were full of angst and worries that now seem relatively insignificant and trivial. Nevertheless, they were real enough at the time: I was hurt and was confused, and my behaviour reflected this. Moreover, it could have been so much worse if I had also had to contend with the added pressure of social media and the exam expectations that many teens have today.
Secondly, it is useful to understand that an adolescent mind is unique – it works in a different way from that of younger children or adults. Brain scans and psychological tests show teenage to be a time of important neurological change and adjustment, necessary to enable the child to cope in the adult world. During this transition, there is a move away from parent dependence, which is why friendships become so critically important. Wanting to be with peers and do what they do can result in good and bad things. FOMO – the fear of missing out is super-charged.
It is easy to see ‘difference’ and ‘change’ as a threat. We can feel rejected as teens move away from us so, it is helpful to remember how we were as teens. Let’s recognise that our young people are different from us in a way that is important for their development. Let’s give them some space, stop mocking them and always be there for them. While they are experimenting, we can be their rock to bounce off and return to.
And for inspiration here’s my top 10 teenage role models:
- My three nephews
- My god daughter
- My mentee – 18 last week – happy birthday!
- Louis Braille – Invented the Braille System at Age 15
- Joan of Arc - Was a Saint at Age 19
- Pelé – Won the World Cup at Age 17
- Nadia Comaneci – Received a Perfect 10 Age 14
- Malala Yousafzai – Won the Nobel Peace Prize Age 17
I am sure you have your own list too.