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April 30, 2015 / BTM

What is ‘Normal’ for a Teenager?

normalI like personality tests.  Maybe its a bit narcissistic, but I like trying to figure myself out.  Mostly, I like discovering that I am, in fact, normal.  I like finding out that I am a ‘category’ and that others think and behave like me.

Not ‘boring normal’, as in being just like everyone else.  We need variety.  But ‘okay normal’, as in knowing that I don’t have some kind of a strange and unfixable personality quirk.

Maybe not everyone feels this way.  Not everyone likes personality tests.  I know someone who does not like these tests because he never ends up in ‘a category’.

However, I know I’m not alone in liking the feeling of being ‘normal’.  I spent some time this morning reading online postings on the Kids’ Help Phone website.  Apparently many teens and tweens feel relief then they read others’ account on this site because they realize that their problems are ‘normal’.  Its enlightening reading for any parent.  Just what did they read that made them feel ‘normal’?  Here are some of the take aways I gleaned from the site:

The Tween and Teen Years Are Emotionally Traumatic

Like that’s a big revelation.

As I read some of the posts on the site, it brought back memories of my own teen years.  I struggled with friendships between the Grades of 5 and 11.  I guess that’s partly because I’m a girl and girls can be mean to each other.  Although, some of the stories were from boys as well.  Emotional trauma is normal for tweens and teens.  So is insecurity.

Here’s the thing: the kids writing their stories are in the middle of their traumas.  They have no idea that their problems will ever be solved and they don’t see any end in sight.

But there is always an end.

As an adult, I know that.  I can think back on those days with a shudder.  I have perspective.  I know that life won’t be 100% horrible all the time and forever.  I know that I will change and grow, friends will come and go, and circumstances will change.

Tweens and teens lack that perspective. 

Perhaps we need to talk about our own difficult times more often.  Not in a way that scares our kids or makes them dread the future, but in a positive way.  In a way that demonstrates that we weren’t stuck in that terrible spot for ever.  In a way that shares what helps a person to get out of that kind of a situation.

 

Teens and Tweens Often Don’t Feel That They Can Go To Their Parents With Their Problems

I can’t say percentage wise how many tweens and teens feel this way.  Its easy to get a skewed perspective on this when you read kids’ stories on the Kids’ Help Line website.  Obviously these kids do not want to go to their parents or friends with their troubles.

But here are some of the reasons they gave for why they felt they could not go to their parents to discuss their problems:

  • Their parents would overreact and make the problem worse;
  • Their parents would just get mad or yell at them (possibly because of the point above);
  • Their parents would not take them seriously (I talked about the need for this in a previous post);
  • Their parents were too busy with work or their own lives;
  • Their parents seemed to have enough problems of their own and the teen did not want to burden them with more;
  • The teen did not want to scare his/her parents (these teens were scared themselves of what is happening to them);
  • The teen was too overwhelmed to know where to begin.

These points are instructive for parents.  I don’t want this to be ‘normal’ for teens and tweens!

How often to you overreact to what your child tells you?  (Guilty)

How often do you jump to a conclusion or criticize your child’s actions when they tell you about a problem at school?  (Guilty)

How often are you not distracted when your child comes home from school so that they feel they can approach you with an issue?  (Guilty)

Sometimes the fact that we have perspective causes us to fail to appreciate that our child’s problems seem serious and unique to him/her

Taking a minute to ask probing questions about the problem (rather than jumping to conclusions) and determining how the problem is affecting our child (rather than glossing over that because to us the problem seems inconsequential) are important steps to maintaining our relationship with our child and to building his/her sense of trust and confidence in us.

Tweens and Teens Need To Know That Their Parents Are ‘On Side’

It was so sad to read some of the kids’ accounts (or perspectives) of their interactions with their parents.  Being the parent, I could read between the lines (or thought I could).  Well intentioned actions were misunderstood or perceived as an invasion of privacy.  A lot of these kids seemed to feel like failures everywhere they went.  Home wasn’t a safe place.  Home was a place where siblings tore them down or parents hit the roof because their grades were bad.

In short, they weren’t getting any affirmation or encouragement anywhere.

How often do we do this to our loved ones without even realizing it?

We get torn down enough by the world around us.  Home should be a place where we feel safe and loved.  It should be a place where praise and acceptance are more frequent than criticism.  Where everyone gives us the benefit of the doubt.  Where it is assumed that we ‘meant well’, we’re given ‘a break’ when we fail, and we know that, no matter what, we belong and are desperately loved.  This should be ‘normal’ for teens and tweens, and all of our family members for that matter.

This is food for thought for me.  Is it food for thought for you as well? 

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