Why it’s hard to understand your teenager
Experience has its advantage: perspective.
Being on this side of having reared children who are now grown (and gainfully-employed responsible citizens) I’m often amused at the things parents get anxious about.
Many of the things parents get upset about related to their children’s behaviors fall under the category of what I call “kid stuff.”
But, I can appreciate that living through the adventure of parenting, things can seem huge when one takes on the illusion of being responsible for the fate of one’s child.
I like to share with parents that the reason trying to understand teenagers is so difficult is that teenagers are crazy, literally.
When teenagers take psychometric assessments designed for adults, the results of the tests are similar to those of someone with certain mental conditions.
In other words, teenagers are insane in that they do not yet function like adults cognitively or emotionally.
So, take comfort in that insane behavior on the part of teenagers is “normal” . . . for teenagers.
Here’s an inventory of teenage behavior that parents can put under the “normal” list:
- Putting off chores
- Doing chores “good enough” to just get by
- Not wanting to do things for the family
- Enjoying doing the same things for other families
- Keeping a messy room
- Putting off homework
- Making a bad grade occasionally
- Having a problem with a teacher
- Disliking things he or she previously enjoyed
- Not having a career goal
- Changing his or her mind about going to college
- Spending money carelessly
- Not being satisfied with what his or her parents provide
- Going through a stage of being ashamed of his or her parents
- Teasing brothers and sisters
- Adopting an annoying “persona”
- Demanding more freedom and privileges based on how good other kids have it
- Not wanting to go to church
- Appearing selfish, self-centered, inconsiderate and unappreciative
- Not remembering to thank people who give them gifts or do them favors.
Therapist Edwin Friedman observed that the children who turned out to be healthier and more balanced were those whose parents invested in them the least amount of their own parental anxieties.
If you’re a parent of a teenager, keep the list handy, and keep things in perspective.
You’ll survive your child’s adolescence better if you do (and it may help if you can manage to remember what you were like as a teenager!).
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).