I think sometimes as adults we forget about how difficult it can be to be a teenager and the challenges that come with it. Most teens that I work with have problems with their peer group and this often ends up being the main struggle for most teenagers. It’s important for almost every teenager to feel accepted and a sense of belonging at school and among their peers. So many of them feel out of place and usually take it pretty hard. Teens have social anxiety, experience rejection, feel left out, feel lonely, get depressed and experience doubt while they form their identity. What I really want to emphasize is that this is not a reflection of the quality of parenting that a teen receives. Let me say that again, just in a different way. If your teenager is struggling, it’s not a direct reflection of your success or failure as a parent.
I think a fair comparison is when kids get sick. When you have a new baby, you want them to be healthy and well and don’t want them to get sick. But as we have all learned, this is unavoidable. Kids get sick. A lot. Sometimes they seem to pick up almost literally anything and everything. They have a brand spanking new immune system and it’s virtually useless when they are young because the immune system hasn’t been exposed to anything yet and hasn’t had a chance to get stronger. A sick baby or small child has absolutely no direct reflection of the quality of the parents or whether or not that parent is adequate. Babies and kids getting sick is an unavoidable part of being young.
When we are young, we get physically sick a lot. When we become a teen, this is when we become mentally sick. I don’t think this happens when we are young because our brain is still very much under construction. When kids hit their early or pre-teens, there is a major event; it’s awkward, weird and confusing and it’s called puberty. Both our body and brain undergo major changes during this time. By our early teens, we start to develop something that we can’t see but is very real. An ego. Little kids don’t have an ego, thank goodness, because this is the part of the consciousness that most commonly develops mental illness. When teens develop their ego, they start to compare themselves more to others, notice differences, develop mistrust and begin to discern, acutely, all the things that they dislike about themselves and each other while making sure that they go through the trouble of pointing it all out to each other.
Honestly, when teens become anxious, depressed, sad, feeling left out, like they don’t belong and so on, it’s a pretty normal thing, just like them getting sick when they were young. For a teenager, every day is kind of uncharted territory. It’s natural and normal for teens to struggle to some degree or another. What I want parents to understand here is that this is not a reflection on a parent as a failure or as a success. Even the very best parents have teenagers that struggle. But it’s extremely common for me to encounter parents to take their teens struggles as something very personal. I don’t think this is a fair or accurate way to measure or determine the quality of parenting.
I think perhaps one big mistake that parents overlook is that they often compare themselves to other parents. I discourage this for a couple of main reasons. One is that the comparisons aren’t usually accurate ones as I often hear parents refer to social media when they make comparisons. I find this to be problematic because social media is rarely an accurate depiction of what people’s lives are really like. Social media is really just a commercial, people only see what we want them to see. I think this is quite dubious and I would challenge the idea that people are as good of parents as they show themselves being on social media. The second reason I think comparisons is counterproductive is because this tends to detract from what kids need. A parent can inadvertently become overly preoccupied with their own perceived shortcomings as a parent when it would probably be better to focus on helping and supporting their teens. My tip here, avoid making comparisons. I promise you that every teen, parent and family has their own struggles and a struggling teenager is not an indication of a bad parent.
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