I think the nearest comparison I could give to what I remember about being a teen and what I hear from teenagers about adolescence is that of a reptile shedding its skin.
When a snake or a lizard sheds its skin, the new growing skin cells separate from the old established skin cells, causing a marked change in appearance and producing an irritability that can result in increased snapping and hissing. Of course, reptiles shed their skin relatively quickly, so the analogy doesn’t carry too far. Still, I think it’s fairly parallel. Your teenager’s nascent adult is separating from the confinement of childhood, causing a marked change in appearance and producing an irritability that can result in increased snapping and hissing. I think it’s why teens often feel like their skin is crawling and fight against a sensation of being confined, wanting to burst free. And its why parents often look at their teens as though they’re something that just crawled out from under a rock.
Shedding skin is uncomfortable, often disturbing, and absolutely necessary for growth – and it’s the same with adolescence. It makes it easier, however, when you know what to look for and what it all means. Teenager adolescent behaviors are stereotypical for a reason – they are fairly consistent across generations. If you haven’t noticed many of these already, you will, in varying degrees, depending upon your teen:
Moody and irritable. The same remark from you delivered without incident eight-three times can all of a sudden be met with a blast of condemnation and scorn on the eighty-fourth rendition.
Unpredictable. They vascilate between personas, leaving you constantly on edge and wary of which persona you’re going to encounter at any given time.
Manipulative. They will try various methods to gain their ultimate objective – to get what they want.
Argumentative. Often, parents’ relationships wtih our teens can be targeted for his or her own adolescent “challenge course,” where every boundary that gets unchallenged is yours.
Withdrawn. Where you were once Plan A on their list of favorite things, you’re no in the T and U category; in other words, way down the list…unless they want something, and then you’re back to A status – but only until they’ve obtained whatever it is they want or have conceded temporary defeat.
Self-absorbed. There is no “the world”; there is only “their world,” which is different form yours and which they are sure you couldn’t possibly understand.
Dramatic. You look at what’s happening and see one image, while your teen is experiencing that same image as something completely different. This is the teen world of extremes, and, as such, it’s a much scarier world than yours.
Dismissive. In order to disguise the intensity of emotions and feelings twisting around on the inside and outside, teens will often take a global whatever attitude.
Collectively independent. Seeking independence from you is designed to produce acceptance from the collective group of peers. It’s an odd dichotomy of seeking approval from one group by displaying disdain for approval from another.
Anxious. As much as the idea of being independent and away from you is exhiliarating, it’s also terrifying. On this roller coaster, they are firmly at the front of the car, even when they’d like nothing more than to crawl into the seat behind you.
Powerful. Teens can be physically larger and stronger than the adults in their lives. In a technology shifting world, they often find themselves more adept, more intuitive, and more savvy than many adults. Being in charge, as teens instinctively know, carries with it both a blessing and a curse. They are attracted to the power but intimidated by the responsibility that comes with it.
Exclusively inclusive. Teens are like pack animals, even when loudly proclaiming their fierce independence.
Physically awkward. Physical sexual development can run ahead of a teen being emotionally and cognitively ready to handle those changes. This leaves teens often feeling distinctly out of phase with their morphing bodies and the resulting emotional fallout.
Overwhelmed. Teens are short tempered, stressed, and at their wits end, all before school starts at seven fifteen in the morning – and the day doesn’t get any better from there.
Insecure. Nothing is secure when every day is fraught with worries, fears, and potential disasters waiting arouind the next corner, the next encounter, the next relationship.
The Stranger in Your House. I’ll be posting more excerpts from it here in the weeks to come, but you can receive a FREE copy of the book itself between now and December 15, 2011. To paricipate in this book giveaway, simply share some of your own thoughts or experiences about raising teenagers – in the comments section of this or future blog posts about the book.
He’s in his room for what seems like days, emerging periodically and answering questions with sullen, monosyllabic responses.
She’s moody, teary, and irritable, one minute demanding you drop everything to tend to her needs and the next minute demanding you just leave her alone!
He’s not going out for tennis this year, even though he did well last year. When you ask him why, he can’t really give you an answer, other than he’s not interested anymore. As you think about it, there are a lot of things he just doesn’t seem that interested in anymore. He seems to fill up his time somehow, but you’re not sure with what. When he was younger, his life was an open book; now, he’s closed the cover and locked you out.
She’s constantly negative – about everything. Nothing ever goes right; she never looks right; you never act right. She used to be a fairly happy kid, but now she’s just difficult to be around, which kind of works out because you hardly ever see her anyway.
He complains about headaches and not feeling well. It’s hard to get him up in the morning to go to school. If he could sleep until noon every day, you think he would, and suspect he does when you need to leave early for work.
She’s rarely at the dinner table anymore. Instead, she says she’s already eaten, grabs a bag of chips and a soda, and goes to her room. When you ask her about it, she says she’s too busy to spend time with the family and prefers to work in her room, but you’re not exactly sure what she’s doing in there.
He used to spend hours chattering away about all sorts of things; you used to spend time together. Now, having a root canal seems higher on his priority list than spending any time with you.
As sure as she is that she’d really rather not spend time with the family anymore, that seems to be all she’s sure about. It takes her what seems like hours to get dressed in the morning, her chair piled high with discarded outfits. She doesn’t know what she wants to do or what she wants to eat, and getting her to sit down to do her homework is almost unbearable.
You know he’s got clean clothes because you do the laundry, but he seems to constantly wear the same clothes you could swear he went to bed in. His hair is never combed, and you’re worried about how often he’s doing things like brushing his teeth and wearing deodorant. He never seems to stand still long enough for you to really tell. Instead, you see more of his backside leaving than anything else about him.
You’re living on pins and needles, wanting to maintain family rules and responsibilities for the sake of the younger kids, but it’s sheer torture to get any sort of commitment from her to do her chores. She always promises to do them later, but, somehow, that later never seems to happen. It’s often more tiring to keep asking her to do her chores, so you just end up doing them yourself.
Sunday mornings are even worse than weekday mornings. Getting him up and ready for church hardly sems worth it. He used to go willingly, but now there’s always a reason why not. Just getting him in the car is a 30-minute argument.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t get that sense in your gut that your teen is unhappy. It’s as if he or she walks around in a swirling cloud of discontent, frustration, and irritation. Sometimes it’s so thick you have trouble making out the person inside. It hurts because that person is still your child, no matter the age.
None of us want our kids to be miserable as they’re transitioning from child to adult. And none of us, frankly. want to be miserable ourselves, weathering an incessant barrage of teenage moods and behaviors. Navigating this time of life can be complicated, and it’s perfectly reasonable to reach out for some answers and some help.
The Stranger in Your House. I’ll be posting more excerpts from it here in the weeks to come, but you can receive a FREE copy of the book itself between now and December 15, 2011. To paricipate in this book giveaway, simply share some of your own thoughts or experiences about raising teenagers – in the comments section of this or future blog posts, or on the Facebook or Twitter pages linked to below.