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Teen Behavior: Like a Reptile Shedding Its Skin

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Withdrawn.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 above is excerpted from Chapter 2 of my new book,

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. 

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