Being a teenager is the best of times and the worst of times, to borrow from Mr Dickens. No longer a cute and adorable child, yet to be a functioning independent adult, caught in no man’s land, wanting to go back and forward at the same time – confused, angry, uncertain, ugly, chubby, spotty insecure. Yep it’s a great time to be alive.
Somehow 14-15 is the worst of it. Having observed the teenage beast for many years now – my own three as they passed through this valley of trouble and tears and the many students I’ve met across the world – as well as remembering my own awkward years I believe 14 -15 is simply shitsville for many. This is the time of pressure from school, friends and parents; of major skin eruptions, of your body changing, evolving – doing what it wants at a moment’s notice. It’s the same for girls and boys. Do you recognise yourself? Is that why you spend hours in the bathroom gazing into the mirror, looking to see if the image coming back at you is someone you know, someone you want to know?
This is the time for falling out with your parents, for grunting and sulking your way through the day. This is the time for wearing entirely inappropriate and desperately ugly outfits, while you hide your body away as it does its butterfly thing beneath the layers of grunge. Please don’t clean or tidy your room and never willingly do anything around the house to help.
This is the time for boys to stand up to their fathers, to do some of that play fighting that isn’t really as boys test their strength against dads and find that dad may be getting older- slower-fatter but he’s still stronger. Sons will move away from their mothers, being rude and ungrateful but still needing huge amounts of food and someone to make their sandwiches for them, Mum.
Daughters become sullen, find their fathers stupid and foolish, utterly lacking in understanding. Mums are for shouting at, for being bitchy to and for ‘borrowing’ jewelry, nail-polish and perfume from, even though mum’s taste is appalling. The sweetest baby girl will evolve into a she-witch, a banshee from hell the moment you look at her. It’s much better that she lives in her room – its dark cave-like atmosphere just right for her dark emotions.
This is the time for first love, crushes and infatuation. Nobody will understand, you’re too young for love. But Juliet, as we all know wasn’t quite 14 when she met Romeo. The thing is, the teenage years are intense; you feel everything sharply, truly and it hurts if you are ignored or worse rejected. And who can you tell? Love hurts no matter what age you are.
Parents are not to ask questions: that’s just another word for interrogation. Homework and school are dirty words. Parents are caught in the quandary of respecting their child’s space and not caring if they don’t enquire after their child’s well being, friends, day, lessons. It’s a thorny time. Teachers are in-your-face-idiots, always telling you what to do and thinking they know everything, when patently, as they’re only teachers, they simply don’t.
This time has to be skilfully navigated in order for all to come out the other end of the dark teenage tunnel still as a family, still able to communicate and share lives as children grow into adults and their own lives. This is the time that parents have to be tough, show love but not indulgent love. This is the time for boundaries to be reinforced (if you haven’t got expectations and ‘rules’ in place by now you’re in for a hell of a time), for consequences to be meted out. Ground them; ban them from electronic gadgetry, but not forever.
Be reasonable in your punishments despite your desire for blood: pull back from the precipice. You do not want your child leaving home or self-harming, and in these emotionally intense years terrible things are possible. Keep a watchful eye as things can go awfully awry. Remember you are the adult – be one!
16 is when the waters tend to calm, when the winds drop from gale force to occasional strong gust. The child your teenager once was – sweet, loveable, kind, funny – will reassert her/himself and, if you’ve maintained your love amidst the torrent of the mid-teen years, you will have a relationship worth having and a child who loves you as much as you love them.
Remember what it was like for you. How lonely and misunderstood you felt from time to time. How hard it was to feel okay about yourself, what you looked like, what sort of person you were. Give your kids a break, it is a hard world out there, much harder now than it was for us. Tell them what’s good and fine about them, be honest in your praise, be strong in your love and you will have a fine young person of whom you can be justifiably proud.