Why the Teen Years Are So Hard
The teen years are full of challenges where a multitude of factors converge in a relatively few short years. Adult-like desires and capabilities are introduced into your teenager’s life when they probably lack the maturity and discipline to know how to handle them well. This phase of life is full of change, including changes in their physical state and hormones, social structures, psychological states, relationships, identity, expectations, etc. It’s a wonder any of us made it through the teen years, and the world is far more complicated now than it was for many of us growing up. Adolescent or teenager counseling can help both parent and teen understand and achieve the goals that must be accomplished in this short and turbulent stage of life.
major goals teenagers have to accomplish
Goal #1: Identity Formation and Disctintion
In childhood, your kid’s sense of self, values and goals are, for the most part, defined by you as the parent. You play a major role is fashioning who they are and developing their identity. But as they grow into the teen years, you’ve probably noticed you’re no longer the most influential person in their life. In order for teens to advance into adulthood, they must accomplish a difficult and painful task: forming their own identity and set of values.
Even if, after going through their teen years, they end up being exactly the kind of adult you wanted them to be, with the kind of values, goals and approach to life you dreamed and hoped for them, every teen must still learn to detach and even reject part of their connection with their parents in order to make their values and identity their own. It’s important not to take this personally or prevent it from happening. Your teen is trying to find out who they are apart from you and what they believe for themselves. This could explain why your teen thinks everything you do and say is “stupid.” Deep down they might still agree, but instinctually, they’re rejecting their old identity in search of their own new one.
To let this happen and even encourage it is obviously easier said than done. You’d have to assume they won’t lose themselves or worse, simply redefine their identity and values through the unhealthy attachments to their peers. Every parent worries their teenager will be negatively influenced by their environment and the “wrong crowd.” It’s during this phase of work where your teen may be able to wrestle through this redefinition of their identity while keeping you involved in the process, or they may do so by completely rejecting you and shutting you out of their life. Much of what happens will depend on how you navigate the relationship you have with them during this time.
Goal #2: Reconciling the Ideal Self with the Real Self
Within your teen is a war that’s being waged against him or herself. One side of the war is their real self: the child who acts out of compulsion and desire and sheer want. On the other side is your child’s ideal self: the person they believe they are or strive to be. Again, during early childhood, this war is waged between their compulsive self and you as the parent. But now that they are older and in greater command of their own life, this war must happen within themselves.
If there is no firm sense of self for your teen, they will feel lost and driven by their internal drives or the influences of the environment around them. This underscores the need to accomplish the first goal of identity formation and distinction. Even if your teen has a firm sense of self, identity and values, they must still pit that ideal self against the part of them that acts and behaves out of compulsion and without self-control.
In order to move on into adulthood, your teenager must engage in this internal conflict. They’ll have to fail, test their own values, overcome guilt and shame, and finally learn how to align their behavior (what they do) with their own values and goals (who they want to be). When we frame things this way, you might be able to see how many people advance into the age of adulthood without ever learning this and accomplishing this task. They may be adults by age, but they still think and feel like teenagers. Adults who fail to achieve this goal are often prone to addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety, mid-life crises, and troubled marriages.
Goal #3: Relational Belonging and Acceptance
One of the most important aspects of adult life is building connections with other people. Part of establishing their own identity is creating a sense of belonging and acceptance in their own relationships. Relationships are vital to life but in order to build healthy relationships, your teen must also be able to understand who they are apart from these relationships. Otherwise, the result is swapping. They will simply have swapped the basis of their identity from you as their parent to the friendships and relationships they forge. The result will feel like belonging and acceptance for them, but it will come at the expense of forming their own sense of self.
To put it another way, this is what most parents fear: their child becoming something they are not simply because they’ve become influenced by their friends. The instinctual reaction as a parent is to leverage back influence and control, but all you would be doing is trying to move the basis of their identity from their friends back to you, like how it was when they were just a child. This does your teen no good.
Helping your teen develop healthy connections and a sense of belonging apart from the family is a healthy step into adulthood. These are things you are able to still influence during their teen years, but don’t lose sight of helping them achieve goals one and two on this list. Accomplishing those tasks will make this goal easier.
Know When to Call for Backup
The reality is many of these tasks that your teen must go through are things you will be limited in being able to do anything about. It has nothing to do with your ability as a parent. Counselors take their teens to other counselors simply because by being the parent, they aren’t capable of engaging their teen in the same way any longer. Remember, as good of a parent as you might be, part of your teen’s objective is to detach and distance themselves from you in order to develop their own sense of self. Your words inherently have less influence and power with them.
When this phase of life happens and you begin to feel like your teen is struggling through any of these goals in their young adolescent life, reach out for help and let an objective and trained professional build a relationship with your teen and help them through these and any other difficulties in their life.