I' ve been warned by more seasoned parents of teens that high school years are nothing short of tumultuous. I’m finding that is true, and it starts as early as middle school. I have struggled for a long time to understand it. My husband and I provide a fairly predictable schedule and have clear expectations. We express our love frequently and provide our children with support and opportunities to develop their individual interests and talents. I’m even a big believer of allowing failure and missteps. Yet, I am still found wondering at times, how a seemingly benign question or remark became the spark that caused an explosion? Recently, I discovered something that shed some light into the world of a teenager, a world that I somehow forgot, but needed desperately to be reminded of. This “something” was a letter written by Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD, and licensed psychologist. “The Letter Your Teenager Can’t Write You”, was found on a blog called Emotional Geographic.
Dr. Schmelzer writes about the underlying struggle between teens and parents, and why it is so important to maintain holds and boundaries even as our teens struggle to break free. She’s not talking about only enforcing curfews or the like, but rather not budging on our emotional attachment. Parents must provide support and unconditional love despite the attitudes and choices our teens will make. She writes from a teen’s perspective about their need to fight and specifically, fight their parents. Why? Because as parents, we are a safe haven. Our children trust us more than they will admit, more than they trust themselves. Teens are entering a strange new world as they venture on their years long transition into adulthood. For all their lack of knowledge about their world and their future...our children know who they are, when we still act like their parents. We are the rope they are holding onto.
I’ve learned through my education and experience as an Occupational Therapist that children will test boundaries more, when boundaries are inconsistent. Children aren’t trying to be “bad kids” or choosing oppositional behavior. We have to look at it from a child’s perspective. If expectations, rules, routines and responsibilities change frequently, the child is unable to produce predictable responses. Thus, the child resorts to basic problem solving of trial and error in attempt to understand this line. They push button to get an effect; if there is no effect, another button will be pushed. So, if Mom doesn’t react when I call my brother names, or poke him, or knock down his block tower....what will it take?
As parents, we need to hold our line, no matter how often or tiresome. Our kids are learning whether they show it or not. They are learning who they are, who they want to become, they are learning about limits, love, failure and forgiveness. They are learning from their most important teacher. So, no matter how hard your child pushes and pulls, no matter how loud or quiet they get, hold on. Hold onto your rope even when you are at the end of it, because on the other end, is your child.
"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." -Helen Keller