I'm an Individual!
like everybody else...
The teen years are the center stage for searching and experimenting with 'identity'.
This involves exploring, pushing boundaries, trial and error, as well as a fair amount of confusion and stress for both for parents and teens. In order to find out how we want the world to see us, we tend to look to those whom we aspire to or connect with. This is the stage where a teen will ‘try on’ many different looks, explore different music genres and may even ‘trial’ personalities as well. In reality, your teen is ‘auditioning’ for who they feel they want to be. (Have you noticed that often, to be 'unique' requires them to look exactly like their mates? Don't ever say this aloud). It is only an audition, so nothing to freak about right? Right?
Peer pressure/support can play an influential role during the teen years.
Every generation has ‘clicks’, be it the sporties, the geeks, the musos, the goths (showing my age here!). Hanging with defined groups is a method in which teens can find ‘their tribe’ – the support and acceptance of like-minded people. We do the same as adults. For some teens, they find themselves in a click that they do not feel comfortable with and hence feel pressure to ‘be like my friends’. This experience is also a part of learning identity. Having the self-awareness to say 'this is not where I want to be' is a lot harder than it seems.
Discovering your identity can involve more than just change of appearance.
It also involves your teen becoming more socially aware, developing their own global opinions and political beliefs. These could differ to yours as a parent. If they do, then it is your role as the adult to give them some freedom to explore what makes them tick. Remaining engaged and interested in their journey allows us to monitor their exploration, but should not dictate it. I have had two children overnight want to become vegetarians. That was cool – it required a huge change for me as the main food prep person, but it was also a way in which I could expand my cooking! As a parent, it is our role to allow our teens to explore social and global concepts, but as always, being vigilant in order to step in for their safety and wellbeing.
So your daughter wants to have blue hair and is listening to Marilyn Manson?
Awesome! Does it mean that you have lost your baby to the dark side? Certainly not. Human beings can be so superficially judgemental, if we see someone with piercing, tattoos, brightly coloured hair and so on, we can find ourselves making judgments about that individual without even knowing we are doing so. I would like to think that with each generation that judgemental nature is dissipating, but human nature being what it is, I'm not confident we will ever live in a world where we do not judge someone who is different to us. Teenagers should be made aware that this sad reality is what it is (for now) – they need to be aware people may judge them for the way they look. Equally important is for parents to be mindful that even with bright blue hair, your teenager is still your child and it is our responsibility to support them during all the auditions until they find whom they are comfortable as.
But will all this freedom of expression lead to sex, drugs, alcohol and all that freak out stuff? I would hazard a guess that blue hair is not a pre-cursor for pill popping (be mindful to not be judgemental based on appearances remember).
Parent or friend? Or both?
My opinion on this matter may polarize but I ask that those who disagree at least be observant to their family reality before discarding this concept. It can be a significant issue without parents being aware. Minereasoning that I should be 'less parent and more friend' (I said less, not completely handing in the apron), is based on what has worked for us. Teens need some fundamental things: the sense of being trusted; feeling loved and wanted; being respected to make their own choices; to know that you will always be there but not ‘in their face’. They want to know that they can tell you things and that you won't lose your shit (never guarantee you won't and remember the power of sorry if you do), and they want to know that you don’t see them as children anymore...because they are not. You CAN still parent teenagers without the need to control. Think of it as being in a 'director' role now rather than the 'puppeteer'. You can not or even should not control your young adult. In my opinion, if you feel you need to control them, go and get some help to find out why you feel this. Read my article on this topic: Parent or Friend?
Adults in Training
Perhaps if we use the term Adults in Training instead of teenagers, we as a society might take our responsibilities and attitudes towards this amazing age differently. Instead of treating teens like they are rebels purposely out to do the wrong things, we could we treat them as adults who are doing things for the first time and cut them some slack and offer understanding rather than judgment. We may discover they have a huge amount to show us. I know mine have.
It is a learning stage for parents as well and we might not always get it right.
It is easy to think that we as parents need to do it all for them, but as we did when they were four, we have to stand back even further this time and let them do it themselves. Will they get it right perfectly the first time? Maybe not, but in many situations, we underestimate the capabilities of these young adults in training. They are perceptive and observant; you might need to be mindful that their reactions in dealing with things could, in fact, be a mirror of your reactions to the same situation.