You don’t really earn your medals as a parent until you’ve survived adolescence. Adolescence is rugged territory for everyone involved. I really enjoy the opportunity to work with both parents and young people. This is an opportunity to teach both about respect. Young people can work at defining themselves differently from their parents without being disrespectful. Parents need to work at backing up enough to respect and understand kids need to work out who they are and often they begin with how they are different from their parents. Adolescence gets ugly when there isn’t enough respect from either side.

The job of an adolescent is to find their own identity. Too often this involves a lot of judgemental reacting – you (the parent) are hypocritical, stupid or demand too much. If parents dig in and get defensive because they take it personally then there can be unnecessary fireworks. Parents need to understand they are simply a target, a bull’s-eye for all of the confusion, anger and misery of trying to determine your place in the world. Once I worked with someone who had been abused by another therapist, it was very difficult to work through all the landmines of her hurt and anger. While I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was a necessary target. That’s how you have to think of yourself – a necessary target. Unreasonable things will be said. Disagreement is rampant. Your idea of who you think they are will be changed by fear. “OMG, do they have any shred of compassion or sensitivity?” You will be miserable that you have failed as a parent. Your doubts will take you on a rollercoaster of worry.

You have to let go and give them room to make mistakes. If you dig in, grip harder, insist on good choices and demand adherence – the journey gets more difficult. Try to recall the craving for power and freedom in your own adolescence and use that memory to build on patience. Demand respect, not agreement. At the same time, adolescents need to learn to disagree with respect.

If your kid turns his back on your dream for them, you must accept it was your idea that no longer works for them. You have to find new trust and belief that they are entitled to begin a new process to find their own dreams. You even have to consider the possibility that they had indulged you about pursuing this dream that was never really theirs. This can especially be true for single parents, or one child families. “You love soccer so sure, I’ll do soccer.” Then the work of making the varsity team in high school is no longer important to them. It’s your job to manage your disappointment because it’s time for their choices (within safety considerations). Hair was a great place for experimenting in the 1960’s because it’s not permanent and easy to change. Yet parents really struggled with those choices, to such a degree it became a powerful symbol.

As mentioned in a previous post, the t.v. show Friday Night Lights on NBC is a wonderful show that is rich in characters, honest struggles and an accurate window in what it means to be an adolescent. The fourth season just began on May 7th.

If parents can give room for small choices and respect differences then the wholesale dump, combined with rebellion can be avoided. Parents may feel they don’t matter or they want to give up or go live on a tropical island. It’s important not to indulge those feelings or give up hope, adolescents are using anger, disagreement and distance to determine who they are, different from you. This too shall pass.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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