Adolescence is a period of transformation from child to adult. A time of growth and maturation of every organ, teens observe their own changing bodies (for example, hair where it wasn’t before), thoughts (less concrete, more abstract), and feelings. It is a time of uncertainty and awkwardness and, for many, low self-esteem. As the mother of a teenager, and a teen once herself, Karen Young hits the nail on the head:
It very likely that every emotion in the history of emotions will land on every adolescent at some point. Some will come and go quickly, but some will heap themselves lavishly upon our teens and stay for way too long or appear way too many times.
Young rehearses the discussion all parents should have with their teenagers about life and love, rejection and failure, and accepting the things you can’t control and pushing back on the things you can. The convo should happen early and probably often:
The transition between child and adult isn’t an easy one, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a time of discovery, experimentation, and exploration. Sometimes this will be exhilarating, and sometimes it will hurt.
Even as adults we will often find ourselves feeling the squeeze of difficult emotions and lumbering fears. Growth doesn’t always present itself in ways that glisten. Part of living and loving means that sometimes, our hearts will hurt. We will question who we are, where we fit in, why our greatest loves don’t love us back, why the opportunities we chase hard will turn us down, and why the things we ache for will stay out of reach.
Each message Young wants to impart on her teenager can serve as the basis of it’s own conversation, beginning with this…
There is no such thing as rejection or failure.
Both failure and rejection can feel like an ending, but they aren’t. They’re part of your way forward, not the end of it. What’s important is the way you deal with them when they happen. It’s okay to fall apart for a while. Really – let it go, let it be messy, do what you need to do – cry, scream, write it in an email you’re never going to send (seriously – don’t send it, just trust me on that one). Just don’t take too long to get back up, dust off, learn what you need to, leave the rest, and move forward – wiser, stronger, braver than before. Rejections and failures are redirections, not endings.
… and this:
There will be plenty of awkward.
Sometimes you’ll do embarrassing, humiliating things you wish you could rewind. There are two things you need to know. The first is that they happen to everybody. The second is that you need to hold on to those stories – seriously – they’ll be gold one day. And anyway – the practice at self-compassion will serve you well. The way you awkwardly trip through life sometimes won’t stop when you leave adolescence. But you’ll be okay with it by then. Promise. People love people who can laugh at themselves sometimes.
Using language teenagers can relate to (and hopefully not offensive to readers of this blog), this tip is extremely important for teens to hear and internalize:
Fiercely enforce the ‘No Asshole Policy’.
To be close and connected to another person means opening your heart and mind to that person. It means being vulnerable. This will feel scary. The damage is never done in being vulnerable, but in being vulnerable with the wrong person. Some people who come into your life won’t deserve to be there – they’ll lie, they’ll divide, they’ll hate, they’ll tell you that you’re not smart enough, good enough, brave enough, pretty enough. Ugh. You don’t have to be open to these ones. You don’t even need to pretend. Be guided by how you feel. If someone doesn’t feel good to be around, walk away. Run if you want to. It’s called the ‘no asshole policy’, and it’s one of the greatest acts of self-care.
Young has thirteen more points for thoughtful consideration and respectful discussion before providing this reminder for parents:
As the important adult in the life of any teen, you won’t always understand what they’re going through, but you don’t need to. What you will understand is that feeling of confusion, hurt, anger, jealousy, betrayal – any of the very raw, very real human emotions we all feel from time to time. There will be times when nothing you can say can soften the landing or make things better for them. The feeling of helplessness that can come from this can be overwhelming, but know that you don’t always need to have wisdom or soothing words. You just need to be there. During these times, understand that your pain, or frustration, or helplessness is likely to be a reflection or a ‘tapping into’ of your teen’s pain or frustration or helplessness. It’s the power of human connection, and it’s all you need to support your teen as they gently and bravely unfold.
If you are the parent of a teenager — especially one who is going back to school this week or next — you will want to download, copy, save, and discuss Karen Young’s important article “You Don’t Have to Have it All Figured Out’ – And Other Things I Want My Teen to Know” here.